National Commentary

Obama Throws Down The Gauntlet

bentonmugPresident Obama boldly broke the Washington log jam yesterday, throwing down the gauntlet to the GOP, and putting the nation on the course to meaningful health care reform by spring.

bentonmugPresident Obama boldly broke the Washington log jam yesterday, throwing down the gauntlet to the GOP, and putting the nation on the course to meaningful health care reform by spring.

He called for the Democratic-controlled Congress to resort to a method, oft used by Republicans in the past, called “reconciliation” to sidestep the GOP threat of filibuster by putting health care reform legislation to a series of simple majority votes. By so doing, the President signaled at last to Washington and the nation that he’s fed up with the unconscionable obstructionism that has characterized the GOP’s response to his presidency throughout its first year.

As Obama said in his remarks at the White House yesterday, this is not about Washington and partisan politics, it is about providing the kind of health care reform that the American public needs.

Many supporters have been urging Obama for months to take a tougher approach to the GOP’s uniform policy of obstruction, but the President was reluctant to abandon his desire to be the “great uniter” of the parties in Washington.

Prior to his health care summit in the Blair House, however, the president determined that his “great uniter” approach simply had no chance of working, and he began to set the stage for the move he made yesterday.

By holding the summit in front of live TV cameras, he gave the American public the opportunity to see just how intransigent the GOP was on the issue. It enabled him to say confidently that he made a genuine, best effort to reach a bi-partisan solution to the issue.

It didn’t hurt Obama one bit for Sen. Jim Bunning from Kentucky to personally embody the GOP obstructionist agenda in a piece of legislative theatre that helped to expose and discredit the GOP as “The Party of No.”

For Bunning to use his tactic against an extension of unemployment benefits is about as close to self-destruction as one can get. Little could have demonstrated better how out of touch the GOP is with the plight of struggling average Americans and why so many perceive “Washington to be broken.”

With the help of Bunning’s antics, we all now know why. A cranky old southern white boy senator blocking unemployment benefits on the one side, trying to block President Obama’s resolve to provide affordable health care to all Americans on the other.

As some have observed, if the GOP is really convinced that the American people will reject and despise Obama’s health care reform, then why wouldn’t the GOP encourage its passage so that subsequent popular outrage would rain down on Obama and his fellow Democrats and guarantee a huge swing to the Republicans in the November election?

The reality is the opposite. People like winners. If Obama beats the Republicans to get health care reform, and as the public begins to appreciate how it will improve their lives, then it is Obama and his party that will enjoy the political benefits in the next election.

Financier George Soros, in a spellbinding interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN last weekend, noted that, like Obama, FDR was tentative in his first year in office before he decided to play hardball. FDR got tough by threatening to expand the size of the Supreme Court to gain support for his tide-turning programs to relieve the American public of the worst consequences of the Great Depression.

He didn’t succeed with the Supreme Court threat, but it was when FDR  got very bold that he got his programs through, and his popularity soared.

“This may be a turning point” for Obama, Soros commented, anticipating Obama’s move to break GOP’s obstructionism this week.

Soros noted that Obama is being unfairly blamed for the economic near-collapse that “market fundamentalists” running the show since the era of Reagan and Thatcher caused by allowing asset bubbles to run amok on the false notion that markets will somehow prevent their own excesses.

On the other hand, he said, the greatest threat to the global economy is the current, gradually deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and China which could result in a reversion to 1930s-style financial and trade protectionism and a complete economic breakdown.

Nicholas Benton may be emailed at