Obama’s Job Speech Makes Cooperation Order of the Day

by on February 27th, 2015
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COMMENTARY | It’s been a busy week in American politics. No, we haven’t been hanging on the edge of our seats wondering if the country was going to default, or applauding the birth of another new democracy in the Middle East. The major events of this week, the Republican debate and President Obama’s jobs speech, may seem mundane by comparison, but the manner in which they played out reflect a profound and ongoing shift in the political landscape.

The mood is somber in post-debt ceiling Washington. With Obama’s approval rating at a respectable 44 percent and the approval rating for Congress hovering between 12-14 percent, it’s clear who took the hit for that debacle. So it was no surprise that when the president stood up Thursday night and offered a bipartisan plan that included choice morsels from each party’s platform, the Republican leadership said maybe.

In his official response to the president’s speech, Fox News reports House Speaker John Boehner said, “The proposals the president outlined tonight merit consideration. It’s my hope that we can work together.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, while not completely on board with the president, told CBS news, “I’d like to see us peel off the things we can agree on together and put those in motion across the board as soon as possible so that we can deliver results for the people.”

Clearly these Republican legislators are feeling the pressure to produce results. Obama offered an olive branch to Republicans in his speech, but he also drew a line in the sand. Congressional Republicans really can’t refuse to come to the table on this because they can and will be legitimately blamed for the stalemate.

Speaker Boehner’s tone was considerably less accommodating when he responded to Obama’s plea in July for Congress to work with him on passing a debt ceiling agreement. Placing blame for the stalemate squarely at the president’s feet, he characterized Obama’s own debt ceiling proposition as a “bill filled with phony accounting and Washington gimmicks,” according to The Daily Caller.

But not every Republican sees Obama’s American Jobs Act as a step in the right direction. Predictably, several Republican presidential candidates condemned the plan as unoriginal, pointless spending. Rep. Michele Bachmann voiced the loudest objections, staging a formal rebuttal to the president’s speech, a right normally reserved for the senior Republican legislator, currently John Boehner.

It’s difficult to understand Bachmann’s motivation for this speech. As a congresswoman, she should be in tune with the legislature’s need to get back into the good graces of the American public. Yet her response allowed no room for discourse or negotiation. She even condemned the one proposal thought to be a shoe-in with Republican legislators, the payroll tax cuts.

CBS News put it kindly: “The congresswoman’s press conference underscored her penchant for marching to her own drum.” Frankly, Bachmann came off as shockingly out of touch with the current political situation, the priorities of the American public, and the direction of her own party.

The press has focused a lot of attention on the field of Republican presidential candidates over the last several weeks. The jobs speech was a stark reminder to them all of what they are truly up against. Barack Obama is a clutch player, and no one in politics today can deliver a speech like he can.

Social media, official polls, anecdotal tales all confirm one thing: Americans want a government that can work together to implement a “balanced” approach to addressing the deficit and other economic issues. President Obama has now positioned himself as the one who understands this, and is ready to deliver.

Republican candidates must tread carefully. It is imperative that they present themselves as problem-solvers. Tea Party extremism is falling out of favor with voters, who want more action and less gridlock. There’s a new challenge for presidential hopefuls, and Obama himself has set it. The candidates are going to have to take the high road, finding ways to promote themselves without vilifying their opponents.

Wednesday’s GOP debate showed us that the Republican hopefuls understand this when it comes to facing opponents within their own party. There was a high degree of mutual respect on display during the debate. The contenders managed to put forth a united front even while disagreeing on many critical issues.

Meanwhile, Obama is doing a great job of positioning himself as the candidate of consensus and bipartisanship. It’s going to be tricky to mount a campaign against him without coming off as – well – the opposite. The question for Republican voters is, who among the field of contenders has the intellectual ability, presentation skills, and personal appeal to pull it off?

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