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Barack the Appeaser

January 27, 2009

Back in May, President Bush, John McCain and the conservative echo chamber slandered Barack Obama's proposed diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East as "appeasement." Of course, President Obama is no appeaser of America's enemies abroad. But as his latest capitulation to Congressional Republicans over contraceptive funding in the stimulus bill suggests, Obama's willingness to appease his political foes at home is another matter.
Obama's economic recovery package is quickly becoming a case study in the iron law of Washington: the Republicans can never be accommodated, only defeated. Even before the bargaining process with the GOP on Capitol Hill even began, the President weighed down his $825 billion proposal with tax breaks beloved by Republicans in the hopes of securing broad bipartisan support. While Iowa Senator Tom Harkin worried three weeks ago that the bill "still looks like a little more of this trickle-down," New York Times columnist Paul Krugman warned:

"Look, Republicans are not going to come on board. Make 40% of the package tax cuts, they'll demand 100%. Then they'll start the thing about how you can't cut taxes on people who don't pay taxes (with only income taxes counting, of course) and demand that the plan focus on the affluent. Then they'll demand cuts in corporate taxes."

As it turns out, Krugman was prescient, indeed. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) fired the first salvo after a White House meeting with President Obama last week, declaring, "Government can't solve this problem." And on Tuesday, as Politico reported, Boehner gave his marching orders to his Republican troops on the Hill to oppose the Obama recovery package:

President Barack Obama is coming to the Capitol this afternoon to curry favor with congressional Republicans. But it appears GOP leaders have already made up their minds to oppose his $825 billion stimulus plan.
House Republican Leader John A. Boehner and his No. 2, Whip Eric Cantor, told their rank-and-file members Tuesday morning during a closed-door meeting to oppose the bill when it comes to the floor Wednesday, according to an aide familiar with the discussion. Boehner told members that he's voting against the stimulus, and Cantor told the assembled Republicans that there wasn't any reason for them to support the measure, according to another person in the room. Cantor and his whip team are going to urge GOP members to oppose it.

Offering yet another sweetener for the GOP irreconcilables, President Obama urged his Democratic allies to drop $200 million in family planning funding for low income women, a move which came less than 48 hours after Speaker Nancy Pelosi took to the airwaves to defend it. That gesture, along with the three meetings with GOP leader and a dinner honoring former foe John McCain, only served to buy Barack Obama a unified wall of Republican opposition.
Of course, Obama's genuflection to political enemies sworn to derail his agenda didn't start with the stimulus bill. President-elect Obama's Achilles Heel, perhaps his tragic flaw, appears to be an unyielding belief in his ability to persuade the unpersuadable through sheer charisma and force of personality. The choice of Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration was case in point. Despite Obama's disastrous appearance at Warren's Saddleback Forum last August and despite barely moving the needle among white evangelical voters (among whom he still lost by 50%), Obama elevated to power broker status an anti-gay bigot who urged the assassination of foreign leaders.
Unlike George W. Bush, who ramrodded his $1.2 trillion tax cut package through Congress in 2001 despite his clear lack of a mandate to do so, Barack Obama has already bent over backwards to accommodate his Republican opponents. With a two-to-one margin in the Electoral College, a 7 million vote plurality, huge Congressional majorities and unprecedented approval ratings in his back pocket, Obama seems poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
In his defense, President Obama came to office pledging a new spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship. Sadly, he's found no takers on the Republican side. More importantly, Barack Obama was elected not so much to to change the tone in Washington as to change the direction of the nation. Each time Obama extends his hand, Republicans slap him in the face. It's time for Obama to remember his own message, "I won."
Ironically, this discussion comes on the day after President Obama ushered in a dramatic change of tone towards the Arab world in his first network television interview. For that appearance on Al Arabiya, his Republican enemies, some of whom don't even know who Neville Chamberlain was, will no doubt accuse Obama of repeating the British appeasement at Munich in 1938.
Barack Obama's aggressive engagement with friend and foe alike in the Middle East, a sharp break with the unilateralism-by-tantrum of George W. Bush, is a long overdue change in American foreign policy. But at home, President Obama continues to appease obstructionist Republicans who can never be assuaged. As his urgently needed economic recovery package, one he has the votes to pass, needlessly bogs down, the lesson for Obama seems clear: only when the threat from Republicans in Congress has been beaten down should President Obama offer them a hand up.
UPDATE: Politico reports that President Obama mercifully signalled to Republicans in their meetings on Capitol Hill today that even his outreach has limits. "He's happy to talk," Politico noted, "but he's not compromising on his tax rebates for lower income households."

5 comments on “Barack the Appeaser”

  1. Talking to radicals of any ilk, without substantial preconditions is in fact appeasement, especially with the Islamic World.

  2. Let the Republicans go to hell. When they had the majority with their so-called "commander in chief" they did whatever they pleased - look at the results... a mess! All they want to please is the evangelicals who are taking U.S. backward.
    As far as the MiddleEast is concerned, they are only words. Obama has a few Zionists in his administration and will be guided by them. Zionists' heart is always with Israel eventhough they live and work for U.S. The only way to fix the problem is by force. Seriously, why should the Palestinians negotiate for land that was stolen from them. They don't listen to anybody, they do whatever they want, kill at will, expand settlements even if it's illegal, all this under the protection of U.S. There should be a military force pushing back where they belong - INSIDE ISRAEL.

  3. Petty grievances and childish things: it wasn't meant only to refer to the right wingnuts, although they are understandably upset that Obama said it. My fellow lefties seem not even to recognize that Obama meant it for them, as well.
    It's just amazing how they don't even realize; I guess that's the effect of having a beam in one's eye, as Jesus put it.
    BTW the word 'to appease' is inappropriate because of it's connection with military affairs and Nazism. Use a different word such as 'mollify' (my favorite) if you are going to say such things. I'm as far left as the wingnuts are far right, but they are an unavoidable part of our extended family, and they failed miserably in their lame attempt to create a single-party system, and so we will get nowhere except 'Hell' if we treat them as 'enemies' instead of eccentric siblings.

  4. It is good that Obama says he will talk to the 'adversaries.' Then, he should have done his interview with al-jazeera, who are not even adversaries - only critical - and happen to be the real central forum in the region.

  5. Dude, you have this totally wrong. Obama is doing the old rope-a-dope.
    If you look at the polls, he's winning.


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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