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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

President Obama Goes to Town

A little bit of political history was made today when President Obama addressed Republicans at their conference in Baltimore:

President Obama traveled to a House Republican retreat in Baltimore on Friday and delivered a performance that was at once defiant, substantive and engaging. For roughly an hour and a half, Obama lectured GOP leaders and, in a protracted, nationally-televised question-and-answer session, deflected their policy critiques, corrected their misstatements and scolded them for playing petty politics.

Sam Stein – Obama Goes To GOP Lions’ Den – And Mauls The Lions Huffington Post 29 Jan 10

In a live television broadcast the president delivered a prepared address and then participated in a question-and-answer session with Republicans which is unlike anything in recent domestic political history.  Coming at a time when Obama’s presidency is under increasing criticism for messaging and policy it was a masterful performance which demonstrated his keen grasp of policy and the process of politics as currently practiced in Congress.

While uninhibited in his criticisms of Republican obstructionism he took responsibility for some of the ‘gridlock,’ discussed specific policy issues in some detail and threw the Republicans some red meat on perceptions which may help encourage them to a more consensual approach to current legislative challenges.

But the optics clearly put Obama in the driver’s seat and he didn’t miss the opportunity to put Republicans on notice:

So, yes, I want you to challenge my ideas, and I guarantee you that after reading this I may challenge a few of yours. (Laughter.) I want you to stand up for your beliefs, and knowing this caucus, I have no doubt that you will. I want us to have a constructive debate. The only thing I don’t want — and here I am listening to the American people, and I think they don’t want either — is for Washington to continue being so Washington-like. I know folks, when we’re in town there, spend a lot of time reading the polls and looking at focus groups and interpreting which party has the upper hand in November and in 2012 and so on and so on and so on. That’s their obsession.

And I’m not a pundit. I’m just a President, so take it for what it’s worth. But I don’t believe that the American people want us to focus on our job security. They want us to focus on their job security.

Obama At House Republican Retreat In Baltimore Huffington Post 29 Jan 10

Perhaps this represents something of a turning point in the toxic politics of the past year.

The implications of this performance were immediately clear to all concerned:

White House officials told the Huffington Post they were absolutely ecstatic. MSNBC’s Luke Russert, who was on the scene in Baltimore, relayed that a Republican official and other GOP aides had confided to him that allowing the “cameras to roll like that,” was a “mistake.”

So effective was the president that Fox News cut away from the broadcast 20 minutes before it ended.

Sam Stein – Obama Goes To GOP Lions’ Den – And Mauls The Lions Huffington Post 29 Jan 10

There were certainly some uncomfortable moments:

Obama said Republican lawmakers have attacked his health care overhaul so fiercely, “you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot.” His proposals are mainstream, widely supported ideas, he said, and they deserve some GOP votes in Congress.

“I am not an ideologue,” the president declared.

But Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., pointedly asked Obama: “What should we tell our constituents who know that Republicans have offered positive solutions” for health care, “and yet continue to hear out of the administration that we’ve offered nothing?”

Obama showed little sympathy, disputing Price’s claim that a Republican plan would insure nearly all Americans without raising taxes.

“That’s just not true,” said Obama. He called such claims “boilerplate” meant to score political points.

Stephen Ohlemacher and Charles Babbington – Obama Takes Questions From House GOP AP via Huffington Post 29 Jan 10

I guess.  Obama even invited the Republicans to ‘fact check’ his comments on the stimulus and deficit:

Now, we increased it by a trillion dollars because of the spending that we had to make on the stimulus. I am happy to have any independent fact-checker out there take a look at your presentation versus mine in terms of the accuracy of what I just said.

Obama At House Republican Retreat In Baltimore Huffington Post 29 Jan 10

So be it, the fact-checking has already begun.  The televised session was apparently so popular that C-SPAN has decided to rebroadcast it:

Reacting to a wave of interest in President Obama’s televised dialogue with Congressional Republicans, C-Span said it would replay the session in prime time tonight.

Brian Stelter – C-Span to Replay Obama’s Q&A With G.O.P. NYT 29 Jan 10

C-SPAN video of the entire session here.  Happy days!


  1. Shaun Appleby

    Sorry I won’t be around for the discussion but I’ve got a date with a rainforest national park overnight.

  2. spacemanspiff

    This was simply amazing.

    If you are reading this post you are a political junkie.

    This means that you MUST see the whole Q & A.


    I must say …


    Obama has been sorely  lacking in the leadership position on the domestic front.

    Comprise. Cool. Talk it out. Excellent.

    But call bullshit when you see it. That’s what we expect.

    Yes. I will be a Bot for life but I’m not blind.

    This was impressive. You can tell he’s in campaign mode and Barack Obama

    when unleashed is a fucking BEAST. I love it.

    Hope it’s a sign of things to come.

  3. HappyinVT

    I’m guessing the president will not be invited back for a return engagement.

    Tellingly, the Republicans were more concerned with having televised it and the optics (not having the camera pan to the questioner but instead stay on Obama) than they were about the points the president made.

    Apparently, the White House pushed to have the cameras there including during the Q&A.  That requires some strong believe that your guy is going to do well despite not having the questions ahead of time (although the president did say he talked to Orszag because he anticipated one of them).

    My favorite line was probably in his prepared remarks:

    But I don’t believe that the American people want us to focus on our job security.  They want us to focus on their job security.

    The video and transcript can be found here as well given that CSPAN has apparently been overloaded by lookers today:

    Of course, several including that odious Virginia Foxx sought autographs afterward.

  4. Steve M

    Amazing!  What a command performance.  He is SO GOOD.

    I kinda get a feeling someone might have misunderestimated our President.

  5. …is there a Youtube or relay up?

    I thought he really hit the right tone with SOTU. But it needed not just a speech, but hard debate.

    He’s grown in office. He was always good at stump speeches, but even in the primaries he faltered at Q&A.

    This is not about rhetorical talent, but belief and insight

  6. The first could be about political blogging as much as political debate

    I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party.  You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.

      And I would just say that we have to think about tone.  It’s not just on your side, by the way – it’s on our side, as well.  This is part of what’s happened in our politics, where we demonize the other side so much that when it comes to actually getting things done, it becomes tough to do.

    And he even got republicans to clap him for not being a Bolshevik:

    But if you were to listen to the debate and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot.  No, I mean, that’s how you guys – (applause) – that’s how you guys presented it.

  7. HappyinVT

    Got an email from Axelrod with the video.

    Dear Friend,

    This was a week where we at the White House were reminded more than ever of why we came to work for this President.  

    On Wednesday, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, laying out his priorities for jumpstarting job creation, fighting to restore economic security for American families and changing the way business is done in Washington.

    But then on Friday something remarkable happened — with much less fanfare.  The President visited House Republicans at their retreat and answered their questions directly for most of an hour.  It was an honest and unscripted discussion where the President took their questions and concerns seriously, acknowledged where they had valid points, and explained genuinely where he felt they were wrong.

    In short, it was something that for many Americans has seemed all but inconceivable in American politics — a real discussion with honest disagreements about the challenges we face.

    You can watch the video at

    The President talked about how politicians of both parties need to work together to bring change to Washington. But changing our politics is not just about Washington. It’s about you, and every American citizen, knowing that government is listening and that you can hold your government accountable.

    That’s why immediately after the State of the Union, we partnered with YouTube to give you an opportunity to ask questions of the President.  Ask whatever you want, or just vote on other questions that your fellow citizens have submitted. The President will answer some of those questions in a unique live event on Monday at

    If changing our politics were easy, it would have been done long ago.  I hope we can all join the President in helping make that change happen.

    Watch the video of President Obama with House Republicans, then submit your own question or just vote on the questions that you’d like to see him answer on Monday.


    David Axelrod

    Senior Advisor to the President

  8. fogiv

    …when I rolled in from my long bout of desert walking today.  mad cool.  i’ve little doubt pence set this up thinking he could score some points on the big O, and make the GOP look like they’re trying to help (we have ideas, yadda yadda).  instead, they were treated to a healthy serving of PWNage.

    i’m guessing hopium stock went up a fair measure today.

  9. creamer

    They only broght 140 to this show. The White House should even things up and let them bring the Senate also.

    He dominated the room, not even close. Right now the republicans are trying figure out who to blame. And now I’m going to sound elitist. Why do the Republicans find it difficult to elect people of high intelligence. Can you imagine putting Bush, McCain, Palin or McConnell in that enviroment. They would have been reduced to babble and/or rage.

    I’m glad President Obama handled this so well, because there is no way the GOP ever does this again with cameras.

  10. ..and incredibly long sighted of Obama.

    Sure, he could bash the Repubs all day, make them look small all the time. He could polarise, play to his base, and your country would drift ever further apart into an unbridgeable schism.

    Instead he reaches out… not in weakness, not in anger (though he’s pissed at moments), not in resentment, but in a firm belief that only some kind of unity will get things done.

    Blaming republicans all the time for this division doesn’t actually solve the slow quiet civil war. Like Mandela, you have to reach out to your enemies and persuade them that – though you disagree with them – you value you them as human beings, you don’t totally discredit their identity, and that there’s some things you have in common.

    Obama just spoke words today. But he showed humour, toughness, and above all respect.

    And in a way, that’s the only thing that will bring an end to the culture wars of the last 40 years.

  11. HappyinVT

    I get a juvenile thrill that Obama gets to call the Reps by their first names while they are forced to call him “Mr. President.”

    To atone for that bit of childishness I will say that I’ll credit the House Republicans with inviting the president and asking generally tough questions.

  12. creamer

    When it was over, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio issued a statement saying Obama “acknowledged the fact that House Republicans have offered better solutions over the last year.”

    from HP.

  13. spacemanspiff

    More Rules: Obama to take on college.

    This is what the Druge Report headlines screams.



    The Obama administration is considering several steps that would review the legality of the controversial Bowl Championship Series, the Justice Department said in a letter Friday to a senator who had asked for an antitrust review.

    In college football no playoff system exists. Instead …

    (bold mine)

    “Importantly, and in addition, the administration also is exploring other options that might be available to address concerns with the college football postseason,” Weich wrote, including asking the Federal Trade Commission to review the legality of the BCS under consumer protection laws.

    Several lawmakers and many critics want the BCS to switch to a playoff system, rather than the ratings system it uses to determine the teams that play in the championship game.

    Basically a few “experts” vote and choose who is #1.

    Weich said that other options include encouraging the NCAA to take control of the college football postseason; asking a governmental or non-governmental commission to review the costs, benefits and feasibility of a playoff system; and legislative efforts aimed at prompting a switch to a playoff system.

    Weich noted that several undefeated teams have not had a chance to play for the national championship, including TCU and Boise State this year and Utah last year.

    “This seemingly discriminatory action with regard to revenues and access have raised questions regarding whether the BCS potentially runs afoul of the nation’s antitrust laws,” he wrote.

    Hatch, a Utah Republican, was steamed that his home state team was deprived of getting a chance to play for the title last year.

    I commented earlier than I thought Plouffe’s influence is obvious.

    Here I see another easy victory with tons of coverage. People who are not sports nuts don’t understand how passionate everybody is about this. Almost 100% of all sports fans HATE the current system. Almost everybody wants to see a playoff system in place. The money that is made in these bowl games and the exposure (which helps in recruiting and $$$) is incredible.

    To top it all off a Utah Republican is the one behind this. Like Mr.President I am a religious ESPN freak. The biggest sports month of the year is March. Basically all the major leagues have something going on which means fans of all sports and teams are tuning in the most. This will be a story that will be seen in a positive light by a pretty big audience. Football is really America’s pastime and aligning himself with a Republican on the right side of the issue ( heh) is brilliant.

    Rightwing nerds don’t get this (see the Druge Report headline) and it will be to late when they notice they’ve doing exactly what the oppo wants them to do.

    It was played perfectly by the Obama team.

    Also, this will always be very important sports trivia nugget and you know Obama loves him some sports. I’m pumped that this might get done and having Obama be the one nudging this along is awesome. I’m sure sports fans everywhere agree.

    Obama is on offense and controlling the narrative now.

    I know it’s just sports. But I love the attention to details.

    These minor stories add up bit by bit and help shape a positive picture.

  14. Shaun Appleby

    Just returned from Lamington National Park, drying out clothes and making dinner for our hiking party and trying to wrap my head around the threads here.  This is a pretty cool site, you know, and I really love you guys, whatever the contentious issues.  Here’s a shot from our very wet trip:

    Obama is going to kick some serious butt for awhile, I’m guessing.  It’s an honour to be present at turning points of history but a mug’s game guessing which ones actually qualify.  This ‘teaching moment’ of Obama’s would be one of my top picks for 2010.  Let the chips fall where they may.

  15. Charles Lemos

    one thing to the debate above.

    The number of people who are politically involved is infinitesimal. Those who blog or comment on blogs is even smaller.

    In December 2009, the Huffington Post saw unique visitors climb more than 150 percent from the year before, and without the help of an election to drive readers to the site as well known for its political bloggers as for its broad aggregation.

    According to ComScore data released last week, HuffPo had 9.8 million unique visitors last month, compared to 3.8 million in December 2008. This increase could be attributed in part to the site’s launch of a number of new verticals, including HuffPost Sports, which debuted in November.

    9.8 million unique visitors per month is pretty good but I’d bet that the rest of the political blogs get about that combined. And I’d point out the HuffPost is a tabloid where the draw is often a story about a walrus engaging in self-fellatio or the latest nonsense about Hollywood or what was said on The View. And yet some notable figures still decide to contribute  substantive posts. I can’t figure that one out.

    By comparison Andrew Breibart’s Big Government got 788,00 unique visitors in October 2009. And according to Nielsen, Fox Nation (the home of the Tea Party set) brought in 422,000 unique visitors with 7.3 million total page views in October, 2009. In a nation of 300 million, this is a pittance.

    I think we forget how exceptional it is to be politically involved or even politically literate. My former assistant was a big sports nut. He could quote passing statistics and batting averages etc. So I asked him who is his Senators were. He said Pelosi. I said no, she’s your representative. Guess again. I dunno. I go Dianne  .  .  . He thinks and then stutters Feinstein. I go good. One more. I go Barbara . . . He offers up Streisand. I kid you not.

    I hold myself to a few rules when I blog. I don’t use expletives and I use tend  to use titles and proper names. I still might call Rep. Bachmann a complete moron but I think calling the Republicans repugs is silly.  Why bring oneself down to their level?

    I do think clever insults are fair game. Mocking politicians is fair game.

    Our politics are poisonous right now but people forget that they were once far worse. Aaron Burr killed Alex. Hamilton in a duel.  Geo. Washington was vilified during his second term, accused of being a tyrant and wanting to set up a monarchy.  Jefferson and Adams so hated each other that they did not speak to each for over a decade. Rep. Preston Brooks beat Senator Charles Sumner to within an inch of his life in 1853. President Garfield was shot by a disgruntled member of his own party. Grover Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock and taunted with “Ma, ma where’s my pa?” When he narrowly beat James Blaine in 1884, the Democrats answered back “Off to the White House, ha ha ha.” The 1896 campaign between McKinley and Bryan was especially vicious and broke all records for money spent. William Hanna raised $7 million to defeat Bryan. Doesn’t sound like much but that amount exceeded the total spent then to fore since 1828 by all candidates.  McKinley’s campaign spending in 1896 would dwarf future presidential campaigns for the next quarter century. It led to the Tillman Act of 1907 which is now effectively overturned by Roberts and his merry judicial activists. And the Tillman Act only got passed because Roosevelt became President after McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist in Buffalo in 1901.

    However, I do blame the right for the polarization of our politics.  I’m sorry but some of them are certifiably insane. And they are bald-faced liars.

    In the 1990s, I was a neo-liberal. I had been taught to believe in the power of free markets. But my own observations did not match the theory I had been taught. I had various epiphanies but one very notable in Buenos Aires, another in Cambodia, another in Detroit and another in SE Kansas. These visits led me to ask questions and the answers were disturbing. And so I adjusted my politics. But the right does not do that. Their policies fail and instead of asking what went wrong, their response is to double down on failure. Some of them do this because for them personally the policies of Thatcher and Reagan have made them very wealthy. The number of billionaires in 1980 was just a handful and even then to get to a billion, you had combine familial holdings. The number of billionaires now runs to almost a 1,000.

    The recent National Equality Panel in the UK is illustrative of the problem. The GINI coefficient measure of overall income inequality in the UK is now higher than at any previous time in the last thirty years. That’s not by accident. It was by design.

    There is no doubt that neo-liberalism has created great wealth in aggregate. But that wealth is highly concentrated. And I think that is ultimately dangerous for peace and stability but it is also immoral to have a third of humanity live in extreme abject poverty.

    We are living in an age where economic power has become very concentrated and as a consequence we are seeing an assault on political power.

    But to get back, many others are duped. They vote GOP because of social issues from abortion to guns to gay marriage or whatever. Are some of these people hateful? Yes, I think James Dobson is a hateful human being. So is Pat Robertson. But mostly they are ignorant.

    I honestly don’t know how to combat the ignorance. They are willfully ignorant. The current debate over climate change is a case in point. You get a cold day and Freepers and the Daily Telegraph (UK) wrap themselves in coats of denialism.

    Look at Sarah Palin who said that she doesn’t need an Ivy League Degree because she has “conservative commonsense.” I’ve said this before but conservatism is a religion. It is an emotive faith-based creed.

    I’d like to think that progressive politics is based on empirical testing of ideas.  The idea that derivatives should unregulated, for example, has clearly failed. It’s time to try a series of regulations. Glass Steagall seems to have played a role in keeping commercial banks from over-engaging in speculative behaviour. I’m a big believer that we can and should learn from other countries. I’d look at that Canadian and Swedish banking sectors to see what they have done right. This to me is common sense. I mean the hubris of Sarah Palin to tell Canada that it should privatize its health care system was hard to stomach. Our health care system is clearly stressed and while Canada’s has its problems, they get far better results for less money.

    I’m not optimistic. I think we are headed for a systemic collapse. The right is like an anvil tied to a drowning victim. They will drag us down into an abyss. Just look at the $10 trillion debt they recently bequeathed us.

    It’s funny that people don’t make connection between empire and debt. Americans seem to think that it is forever 1959. We can’t afford to do half the things we are doing. We need to adjust. We account 47% of total world military spending even when our share of world GDP is only about 20%.  Our priorities are simply out of whack but few people talk about this.

    I’ve rambled off course but I’ll note if you want to look at political hate compare apples to apples. Look at Free Republic and compare it to the Democratic Underground. Which of these bulletin boards serves up more unadulterated hate?

    I don’t think that’s even a race.

  16. HappyinVT

    much of the the Baltimore Beatdown.  In his response to Rep. Ryan the president said that the reason he is proposing a “spending freeze” for the next fiscal year (2011)instead of doing so earlier is that the consensus of economists is that the economy is still fragile and now is not the time to raise taxes or cut spending.  Sounds just like what all those freaking out about the “spending freeze” were saying.  I guess the president didn’t “sell out” on this point after all.

  17. Shaun Appleby

    Maybe some of the post-SOTU messaging is getting through:

    Some senior Republican strategists and party veterans are beginning to fret that the party’s refusal to work with President Obama, even when he crosses onto their own philosophical turf, could ultimately erode some of the political gains they’ve made this past year.

    Over the past two weeks, Republicans in Congress have united in nearly unanimous opposition to a series of ideologically conservative policy suggestions, starting with a commission to reduce the deficit, a pay-go provision that would limit new expenditures, and a spending freeze on non-military programs.

    Opposition has usually been based on specific policy concerns or complaints that the measures aren’t going far enough. But the message being sent is that the GOP’s sole mission is presidential destruction.

    Now, some in the party are beginning to worry.

    Sam Stein – Some Republicans Fret That Opposition To New Obama Measures Could Seriously Backfire Huffington Post 30 Jan 10

    Well, that’s our story and we’re sticking with it.  One virtue of having a ‘centrist’ president is that it should start making the Republicans uncomfortable with knee-jerk obstructionism.

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