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Obama & House Republican Conference: addressing issues & obstacles

A YouTube video of President Obama responding to questions from the Republican members of Congress on January 29, 2010.

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Maybe I Was Seeing a Mirage

  • Jan 31, 2010
  • by
When it comes to politics one thing is very clear:  We're so divided that even if I say, "Wow I liked that Obama speech," I will be labeled a Liberal terrorist (actually that's not a joke, that really did happen when I was commuting to school one day) and if I criticize Obama I will be labeled a Conservative Fascist as if I'm supposed to get in some kind of line.  Depending on who you listen to (not based on who you ARE) shapes more about what you think of the President more so than what you actually think.  Don't think so, go to a place like Politifact and listen to your reaction when you find out Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann says something that wasn't true.  Admit it, you're going to try and justify why they're not wrong at all, and if it doesn't agree with you you'll act as though they're working for the other side.  Take away all the mindless punditry, however, and what do you get? 

You get a House conference where people actually behave like human beings.  And... then you get pundits trying to read into it to make sure you STILL think the other side are a bunch of demons hell bent on kidnapping your children in the night.

This little conference was actually a surprise where it seemed like for once there was some kind of discussion going on.  Obama met with house Republicans in Baltimore where for once he got to take questions from Republican opponents directly and respond directly.  What was nice about seeing this was that this wasn't some press release or statement that was given to the media in response to other statements (that political pundits would later take and twist and dig into anyway).  Neither did you find a lot of outrageous statements.  House Republicans that at one point said things like, "Obama is a terrorist hell bent on eating your babies," were more subtle and instead of taking this sort of defensive, "Hitting back," attitude you felt more like you were getting a discussion.  Something a bit more civil.  This wasn't some town hall where Obama went to appeal to his constiuents or where someone like Michelle Bachman makes a statement among her constiuents in hopes of being re-elected... this was something that was actually quite humble and comfortable to watch.  When was the last time a President actually faced his critics... in person?  I know there are a lot of MEDIA statements out there in which a President responds to his critics and that there are a lot of pundits who spew out crazy things all the time in hopes to cause a bit of controversy and pundits who will speculate why the President does what he does.  But a pundits job is to spin things--that is, literally, what they're being paid to do.  They're saying what you're thinking because they're being paid to do it.  They don't have to actually think those things as well.

So here it was nice not to have the Media speculating and not to have words being twisted in a positive or negative manner by pundits who would much rather keep us divided (let's stop pretending pundits aren't being paid to do this... if the country suddenly comes together and starts singing songs by the campfire most of these guys would lose their job).  Instead what you got was, for once, something civil.  First Obama addressed the party and then took questions.  The address in and of itself wasn't really all that special... but the Q&A moment was.  And for once we actually got some transparency.  This didn't happen behind closed doors here we couldn't see what was being said.  This happened on live national television in an environment where it was not appropriate to go off the deep end. 

The questions the Republicans asked were good questions.  Although it's hard not to see that some were asserting certain things.  But that doesn't really matter.  What matters is that this time around neither they (or Obama) had a crowd they were supposed to be pleasing.  There was no need to rile up a lot of energy.  Only a need to ask questions and see the responses they would get.  Certainly the Republicans, you or me wouldn't like everything Obama said... but you don't actually have to like it.  And if you're curious as to what was true and what was not... go to a place like Politifact.com or Factcheck.org.  DO NOT go to a blog.  This isn't the time to seek out only what you want to hear.  Remember, politics is mostly a game... and we'll get to that in a bit.

What I want to talk about first are some of those questions.  I will preface this by saying I really don't care about your politics and you shouldn't be reading this caring about mine.  If you are then that back button is on your browser for a reason.  

There were some pretty good exchanges and, for the most part, a civil tongue.  Mike Pence, in particular got things off to a great start.  Yet what was more interesting was listening to Obama respond.  Anyone who thinks he needs teleprompter in order to give a good response might be just a little upset to see that this time he didn't.  Just the same anyone who thinks Republicans can do nothing but recite talking points will also be disappointed to know that many of the questions hardly had anything to do with so called "Talking Points."  There were a couple of moments that did stand out, however.  Perhaps what stood out to me most is how Obama had basically explained that he understood why Republicans were playing the game of politics the way they did.  If he says something nice about a Republican Congressman or Senator the media won't print that.  Some, Obama went on to say, don't understand that sometimes it's just politics.  He might be on to something there (I invite you to read my opening paragraph again), as many people on both sides of the political spectrum act as though they're not allowed to say anything nice about the opposing party at all and not allowed to criticize their own or even think the other party might be right.  You might say that Obama was willing to explain why Republicans made it hard for them to work with Democrats.  Unfortunately he didn't say anything about why Democrats might have made it hard to work with Republicans.  Though he was quick to point out that certain "adjustments" had been made at the behest of Republicans. 

It was nice and even tempered, although it was a little disappointing to see how neither side of the spectrum was willing to take much responsibility for... well, anything.  To their credit, it was nice that it was particularly civil.  Perhaps the only moment that may say otherwise was the exchange between Jeb Hensarling and Obama as the two spoke of the debt.  Where Jeb stated that, "What were the old annual deficits under the Republicans have become monthly deficits under the Democrats."  A statement Obama used as an example of someone playing politics.  "That's not true," he told Hensarling, "and you know that's not true."  Was Obama right on that one?  You may surprised to find that... he is.  Whether or not Hensarling knew that was true or not is another thing (or he might've just noticed numbers and drew a conclusion off of correlation that was not fully supported).  This was perhaps the only time when things seemed to get off the ground a little, but they quickly calmed down (although for some odd reason Obama kept calling the man "Jim").

Aside from that... the conversation was good overall.  The part which struck the most for me was how Obama was willing to actually state that yes, for some politics is a game.  It's something that you and I have known for some time... except a politician isn't exactly allowed to say that.  Especially one seeking re-election.  As I've stated elsewhere, sometimes it's like a sports team.  So yes, understanably it is easy to see why some Republicans will say certain things just for the sake of appealing to their constituents.  Gotta get re-elected.  The difference was that here they weren't speaking at a town hall in front of their supporters.  You get the feeling that among both parties there was a bigger sense of honesty as a result.  Obama had a chance to point out that he's not a radical and that the Health Care Bill, for example, was not radical either and that there had even been changes made to the bill for Republicans.  The Republicans in turn got a chance to point out that they DID have ideas. 

Most importantly, however, there was some middle ground somewhere at least.  Both departed Baltimore, perhaps not totally satisfied, but at the very least there was some sort of understanding that we haven't seen.  Instead of being something heated, what you received was something a bit more concrete.  Republicans got to know that their ideas were being considered (some even implemented) while Democrats got to learn that, yes, there are Republicans willing to work with Democrats.  It's not perfect but at least it's better than the heated exchanges between say... White House Officials and Conservatives.

I'm skeptical, however, that this is the start of progress on either side of the aisle.  It depends on what we see next.  If the Republicans just go back to trying to get their base to believe Obama is destroying the country in an effort to get back into power... then this was a waste of time.  If the Democrats go back to doing largely nothing and refuse to govern... this will have been a waste of time.  Basically what I'm saying is... if it goes back to being just a game, it was a waste of time.  And it probably was.  At least it's nice to see that they can actually be civil.  Unfortunately now they'll probably go back to being squawking chickens while the pundits go back to making sure they manipulate you into thinking one thing or the other about the President, Democrats, Republicans in a further effort to keep things divided.  So while it was nice I have doubts it was productive. 

At the very least, however, you got to enjoy 82 minutes of unity among the parties.  Not total unity, but enough unity that you can be content that sometimes politics actually can be civil and serious.  Unfortunately now that this is over... it's goiing to go back to being a game. 

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February 05, 2010
If only everyone could behave as if they were adults at least 75% of the time, this thing we call America could actually work. The most saddening thing I ever heard was when Limbaugh said he wanted Obama to fail. That's like saying I want your half of the boat to sink.
February 05, 2010
I think what's even sadder is how they're more willing to cast out their own who even try to go to the center.  It's a little hard to be bipartisan when those who want to go to the center and work with the President are immediately threatened to be booted out of office for doing so.  You get the sense that if a member of the GOP complimented his shoes they'd somehow get ousted from the party or put up someone who was more conservative to run against him.  I guess what I'm saying is that it's hard to be bipartisan when you insist everyone in your party be on the fringe.
February 06, 2010
I'm with you. It's all tied together.
More An Open Discussion Across the ... reviews
review by . January 30, 2010
Carve Out One Hour (worth every minute): Obama Responds Specifically to Questions from House(R)
 Now we're getting somewhere..... This was the biggest breath of fresh air I could imagine - President Obama at the House Republican Conference (hosted him at its retreat in Baltimore) -   (I wrote last night and could write no more!)      Now here's the commentary and why I could not 'perform' (post commentary) last evening when I uploaded this:      I was too blown-away (in a good way) and not fully integrated as to why it felt like something …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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