President Obama took a courageous step on Friday, when he appeared before the House GOP retreat in Baltimore, defended his record, and took questions for almost an hour.
He put on a maestro performance, and showed that the Republicans had the opportunity to promote health care reform when they controlled the Congress for twelve years, with six of those under a Republican President, and yet did not, but now claim they have plans for health care reform, although they have refused to cooperate with Obama in any way on the subject.
He also pointed out that Bob Dole, former Kansas Senator, Senate Majority Leader, and 1996 Republican Presidential nominee, had endorsed much of the Obama health care plan when it was first introduced last year. Also, former Tennesee Senator , Senate Majority Leader, and candidate for the Republican nomination for President in 1980 and 1988–Howard Baker–had also supported the basic elements of the administration’s health care reform in 2009.
What Obama was implying is that in the past, there were reasonable Republicans who were moderates and worked toward cooperation and bipartisanship, rather than total opposition and confrontation as the present Republican party is engaged in on not just health care, but also education loan programs, job creation, global warming, economic stimulus, and really everything else imaginable!
Watching this equivalent of the British House of Commons question and answer session for the Prime Minister, it seems to me that it might be a good idea for every President to schedule this kind of session at least once a year to defend his program and be challenged directly by the opposition.
The only problem is that it would be hard to imagine George W. Bush being able to do this in front of a Democratic gathering and come across as legitimate and capable. Some Presidents would have a rough time, as they do not have the knowledge and speaking presentation that Barack Obama has.
While of course there will be partisan review of this event, it seems clear to neutral observers that the President came across as having legitimized and improved his standing and defense on the issues, and that the House Republicans came across as overly preaching rather than asking questions, looking to make points which have no validity but sound good as sound bytes. Their long introductions to their questions became very obviously a propaganda moment, but the President deftly handled them and responded in an assertive but good natured way, with his brilliant smile and charm always evident.
This was not an equal bout, with about 140 or more Republicans against one President. It only made the GOP look more ridiculous, more negative, more confrontational, more a party without any solutions, but instead catch words and propaganda lines that will not solve the problems of the economy or the American people.
And the more that the Republican party caters to the Freedom Works and Tea Party crowd, which is more extreme with elements of anarchism and implied hatred, racism, and violence, the more they will lose any chance to gain mainstream voters. As Barack Obama said, rhetoric that is extreme makes it hard to work together, and to unify to deal with the massive problems the nation faces.
So the ultimate reality is that moderation is the way for the GOP to go, and if they do that, they have a far better chance of making a contribution, and of eventually regaining respectability and the possibility of being given responsibility to run the government and do the people’s business!