Pundits: In Victory, Obama Must Accommodate His Opponents

With the election over, you’re seeing familiar corporate media advice about the need for Obama to move to the right and learn to compromise with Republicans.

Some of this is based on a frankly nonsensical view of the polarization that accompanied his first term. Matt Bai of the New York Times writes (11/7/12):

Matt Bai (photo by Nicole Mays)

NYT’s Matt Bai (photo: Nicole Mays)

There are, of course, plenty of explanations for why Mr. Obama’s election did not usher in a less contentious political moment. Republicans say he squandered his opportunity to remake the political climate by adopting a traditionally liberal agenda. They point to his first big initiative, the stimulus package worth more than $700 billion, and the healthcare law that represented an expansion of government rivaling programs from the 1960s.

Democrats, meanwhile, point out that Republicans seem to have made a conscious decision, beginning with the stimulus, to oppose anything the president put forward, dooming any chance of renewed cooperation between the parties.

One side says X, the other says Y. Of course, a reporter might also want to compare those claims to reality.

The Obama stimulus plan was hardly a matter of pursuing a liberal agenda; in fact the White House spent considerable time trying to attract Republican support, winding up with a package that some prominent liberal and progressive economists thought was too small and put too much emphasis on tax cuts.

Obama’s healthcare plan, once the public option was removed, was essentially Mitt Romney’s plan from Massachusetts, inspired by the right-wing Heritage Foundation. So what Republicans say doesn’t really line up with reality. What Bai has Democrats saying is that Republicans vowed to block Obama at every turn. Which is what they said, and what they set out to do.

Karen Tumulty (photo from Center for American Progress)

Karen Tumulty (photo: CAP)

Going forward, according to some reporters, Obama should pursue a far-fetched vision of national consensus. Karen Tumulty in today’s Washington Post (11/7/12):

If he hopes to achieve anything significant in his final term in office, the president must first forge the kind of national sense of purpose that the election failed to provide.

It’s hard to know what that means, other than a vague sense that Obama must do something that Republicans will support.

Also in the Post, Dan Balz was offering similarly gauzy advice for the second term:

It will now be left to him to create a true mandate for his agenda and then through leadership that combines compromise with conviction, produce a political consensus in Congress and the country to put that agenda into place.

Obama will now have the opportunity to show his true colors, in terms of both his ideological convictions and his ability to produce the kind of cross-party consensus he said he yearns to create.

So Obama should show his “ideological convictions”–so long as they produce “cross-party consensus” with Republicans who have vowed, on several fronts, to oppose him. (The great exception would seem to be foreign policy, where Obama’s expansion of the drone war, escalation of the Afghan War and Iran policies are acceptable to the Republican opposition.)

The clearest take, perhaps, came from NPR‘s Cokie Roberts, who explained on Morning Edition (11/8/12) that the election showed that the country is divided. (This is, in a sense, what elections are supposed to do.) She explained the task for Obama:

Cokie Roberts (photo: ALA)

NPR’s Cokie Roberts

It is a divide where he’s lost whites, he’s lost Southerners, he’s lost people of a certain income and age, and he’s really got to do something fast to deal with that.

This is a curious notion of how politics work. After winning an election, the victor should immediately…do what his or her opponents want to do. It’s something the press has done before–especially when Democrats win.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.