Obama, Boehner and McConnell: a clash awaits
We've heard from them all now. President Obama. Presumptive Speaker of the House John Boenher (R-Ohio). Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). If the good cop/bad cop routine displayed by Boehner and McConnell today is any indicator the next congress is going to be a doozy, and the coming clash with the White House will be unavoidable.
Obama admitted that he and the Democratic Party suffered a "shellacking" last night as voters decided to put the car in "R" for the next two years by handing the House back to the Republicans. He was contrite and introspective. He bemoaned the isolation of the White House and how it cuts him off from the American people. And yet his words lacked the kind of warmth and connection I'm desperate for him to show. We'll soon see if he has the ability to turn that introspection into extroverted action that marries his words with palpable emotion and a clear strategy for dealing with an energized opposition.
Still, Obama's warmth and manner were infinitely better than the scold from Kentucky. McConnell played bad cop/attack dog at the press conference he and Boehner held today. After declaring that the midterm elections were a "referendum on the Obama administration and the last two years," McConnell said the Republican leadership "will agree to work with the administration when they listen to the American people." I'm going to come back to this in a moment.
But neither Obama nor McConnell could hold a candle to Boehner in the emotion department. Last night, when he talked about working hard to achieve the American dream, putting himself through school and "working every rotten job there was...and every night shift I could find," choking up the entire way, Boehner humanized himself. He went from being a faceless leader of the opposition to a real person who has worked hard to get where he stands today. Not every American can reach that plateau. But every American can relate to having dreams and knows what is required to achieve them.
At the press conference with McConnell, Boehner maintained his humble and largely conciliatory mien. He played the good cop. With Republicans now having responsibility for governing, I hope this tone leads to real progress on the problems the country faces. Which brings me back to that comment McConnell made about working with the administration "when they listen to the American people."
The Republicans run the risk of overplaying this talking point and over-interpreting last night's election results. On MSNBC's "Jansing & Co." today, Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild made this very point. She said that while Republicans are right to say that this was a referendum on Obama and his agenda, they better not think that it means voters were running into GOP arms. She's right. The GOP had a 34 percent approval rating, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. That's five points lower than the newly vanquished Democrats.
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