President Obama and the House Republican Caucus

So, I didn’t watch this meeting yesterday (Fri, 1/29) but have read several articles reporting and analyzing it.  And I’ve read some of the transcript, and understand that I may have to update my thinking about this once I’ve gotten through it all.

In the meantime, though…

First reaction: I’m glad they did this, and did it on live TV.  There’s so much (mutual) sh*t-talking among our major parties these days that it seemed important to get them face-to-face, in a room, in front of cameras to see how PrezO and the Rs would react to each other in real time.  Whatever else I have to say about this, now or later, it’s a (sadly) momentuous event in US political history, and I agree strongly with the calls for more of it, with both Republicans and progressive Democrats.

Notice that because I’m echoing the call for PrezO to meet with progressive Democrats, I’m contending (and will until almost all his policy stances change) that Obama IS NOT A PROGRESSIVE, much less a socialist or any other such nonsense.  The jury has long been in agreement on this, and the only people who say otherwise are those who are saying it simply to be inflammatory.

At any rate, although I don’t have especially high hopes that one meeting will change the tenor of Washington politics, I do think a couple of things about the outcomes of the meeting.  First, I think PrezO clearly established himself as the voice of reason, at least up against the barbaric attacks he’s faced in the last year and change.  That was already true, of course.  Even though I disagree with his policy positions on almost everything, he’s certainly more reasonable (as a listener, thinker) than just about anybody else in the public domain right now.

When Republican opponents of healthcare reform, for example, accuse him of turning a deaf ear to “the American people” (who they routinely proclaim to speak for, even though almost every single national poll disputes this notion), they’re simply lying.  It’s very clear that he wanted a very different package, had he been able (well, willing) to script this process himself; instead, he sold various pieces of the package to a variety of constituencies in the name of being open-minded, fair, and committed to democratic practice.  Whether that’s exactly why he did it we’ll never know, of course, but to accuse him of “not listening” is, not to put to fine a point on it, bullshit.

A second outcome from yesterday’s meeting (I hope): a retreat from the brinksmanship (apologies for the gendered term!) that has passed for discussion/debate in the last 5 years, maybe longer, in this country.  Not that I expect the Republican party machinery to ratchet down their (so far successful, depending on how you measure such things) strategy of complete negation.  But it seems, from the reports I’ve seen, that even some Republicans demonstrated a sense of calm reasonability during the meeting.  We’ve suspected all along that there were still members of the party who think the Tea Partiers and Palinites are dangerous, wrong, and need to shut up; a couple of them might have shown their faces publicly yesterday.  Let’s hope the Michael Steele/Rush Limbaugh/Fox News machine doesn’t flush them all down the Memory Hole once again.

One problem I’ve had with coverage and some discussion of this event: I see too many Democrats and PrezO supporters proclaiming it a “beat down,” a “victory,” a “smash,” and other fightin’ words.  This troubles me on two levels.  First, while the reptilian core of my brain likes to exact painful revenge just like most people do, I like to think that what we saw was instead the first real moment of actual exchange that PrezO’s been calling for since he started his campaign.  Second, and closely related, I don’t imagine that PrezO himself would either use these kinds of terms, or be happy that anybody else is, to describe what happened in Baltimore yesterday.  That is, even if in the dark recesses of his brain he enjoyed the clear control he exhibited over the Rs, he’d NEVER say so out loud, and he wouldn’t want anybody else to talk about it that way either.

It serves no purpose except to re-inflame the exact nastiness that made it so newsworthy in the first place.

Short version–I strongly recommend, especially to PrezO supporters and Democrats, that you BACK OFF a little from the victory dance many of you seem to be doing.  That kind of oppositional discourse does little except to reinforce itself; as many of us pacifists say, violence only gets more violence.  Same principle here, folks.

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