I’m not surprised that the House Republican caucus’s takeaway from the floor-wiping they took at the hands of Barack Obama today in Baltimore is that they really need to avoid these kinds of transparent, unmediated interaction with an enemy they’ve painted as everything from a Marxian socialist to a Kenyan interloper. After all, look at the damned tape. They sounded worse than they looked, which is kind of an amazing statement considering John Boehner’s year round Ohio tan.
The instant consensus is that the Republicans were sandbagged by Obama, who accepted their invitation to speak at their retreat and … negotiated that cameras be allowed to run throughout, from his prepared statements through the Q&A, which, in its back and forth of charge and summary refutation, is where the GOP caucus pretty well — okay, completely — choked on its own talking points and tripped over its lobbyist-tied wing tips.
I’m a big fan of Prime Minister’s Question Time, (the British version). Gordon Brown is a stiff, as we all know. A pale shadow of Tony Blair, who clearly loved the play of batting away every zinger the opposition threw his way. But good entertainment aside, the weekly event allows the public — you know, those pesky voters — a far, FAR more real and relevant assessment of opposing arguments than canned commercials and/or, god help us, 15 second sound bites fine sliced for commercial news. Everyone wins a few and everyone loses a few, and even a natural TV performer like Blair — currently tap-dancing his way through an official British inquiry into how they/we got into Iraq (something else we don’t do here) — couldn’t hide, in the end, his lack of diligence on the pre-war intelligence and skepticism at what the Bush-Cheney team was selling him.
The early reviews of today’s Obama v. GOP Baltimore event have been ecstatic — from the White House and liberals and some of the better media watchers — people critical of the bizarre isolation of dialogue on matters of enormous national relevance to competing cable channels and flying counter-charges in the “serious press”. This event today, whether wholly plotted by Team Obama, or accepted based on his supreme confidence in controlling any crowd at any time, is smacking some as a revelation. And it should.
There’s zero chance the Republicans — whose last President barnstormed around the country speaking to tightly controlled groups of fawning sycophants and even then frequently screened their questions for, you know, anything unpleasant — will consent to something like this Baltimore thing on a regular basis, and certainly not with live cameras. The reason? They know they have no game in a direct debate. They’re legislative “success” to date is based entirely on obstruction and outrageous-to-absurd fear-mongering, (death panels, 13 year-olds getting federally-funded abortions, wholesale socialism, an Obama-created deficit triple everything that’s come before — points for chutzpah to Texas Cong. Jeb Hensarling for wading into that one).
Despite their incessant talk about “beliefs”, (like merely “believing” something is a virtue of any great value), little to none of that translates into an actual legislative agenda, with coherent, fiscally-responsible bills and such, designed to solve bona fide problems. And no, I don’t consider “the march toward socialism” a major, bona fide issue. Modern Republicans have an act that only really works when the opposition — Obama, mainly — in is isolated in the abstract, as the ghoulish “Joker” face sawing the legs out from under our our “freedoms”. (I.e. the “freedom” to “believe” whatever we damned well please, any evidence to the contrary.)
But one on one, face to face, live, and un-cut by any restless, fidgety editor/news director at FoxNews, MSNBC or WCCO, Obama not only sounds reasonable and in command of his facts — reminding Hensarling et al where all that debt came from and how much was built into the system he inherited — the Republicans don’t. They sound like parrots in the echo chamber, struggling to re-phrase their standard town hall talking points into something just a wee bit more polite … in deference to the actual physical presence of the President. (Joe “You lie!” Wilson did not ask a question as far as I can tell.)
Frankly I was always disappointed that Bill Clinton didn’t try the live Question Time thing with Newt Gingrich and the, um, great legislative opposition of his era. But from what I’ve read, Clinton had far less patience with witless demagoguery … and loved to hear himself talk more than made for good dialogue. Obama has all of Clinton’s brain power — the control over and retrieval of facts and factoids — compounded with far more patience (too much, for some of our tastes) for such mano a mano repartee.
The associated complaint here, and Obama hit it, again, today in Baltimore, is that the modern media — and not just the circus shows on Fox and MSNBC — prefers conflict and the appearance of combat to assessing the truth of countering arguments, much less, god forbid!, a complete airing of the President responding to his most immediate critics, face to face. (Cable channels obviously carried the event today. But in a world where “Two and a Half Men” is a hit, it’s very hard imagining a broadcast network blowing out an hour and a half a month for anything so … so … relevant.)
Given the instantaneous and all-but universal reaction to today’s Baltimore event, I fully expect the Republicans to politely decline any offer to expand the shtick to a monthly TV act, and for them to “instruct” their leadership to turn the damned cameras off the next time they’re caught in a room with Obama … or any countering argument.direct marketing nice