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April 15, 2014

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Letter from Washington:

The more voters reject change, the more things stay the same

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Carolyn Kaster / AP

President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks about the economy and the deficit, Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

Obama wins re-election; Romney concedes

President Barack Obama is shown at his Election Night party Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, in Chicago. Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Launch slideshow »

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At first, it seemed as if President Barack Obama — despite overcoming the drag of a weak economy — wouldn’t try to suggest that the result gave him an unequivocal mandate to govern.

But that didn’t last long.

“On Tuesday night, we found out that the majority of Americans agree with my approach,” Obama said in a speech Friday, in which he promised to veto any fiscal-cliff compromise that extended tax cuts on incomes over $250,000. “Our job now is to get a majority in Congress to reflect the will of the American people.”

Obama’s decision to put his foot down early marks an important turnaround for the president, who has been criticized for being too conciliatory and too post-partisan in his attempts to broker ways out of past fiscal crises, such as the debt ceiling debacle of summer 2011.

But it may also undercut the focus on bipartisanship that had dominated the first few days after the election.

“If there’s a mandate in yesterday’s results, it’s a mandate for us to find a way to work together on solutions to the challenges we all face as a nation,” House Speaker John Boehner, the nation’s top Republican, said Wednesday. “Mr. President, the Republican majority in the House stands ready to work with you.”

“The American people want us to work together,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the same day, reprising a speech he made in his first turn as majority leader. “I said that I know how to fight. I know how to dance. I don’t dance as well as I fight, but I’d much rather dance anytime. And I still feel that way.”

For the past two years, cooperation has been the elusive. Congress has failed to accomplish much because policy discussions of all stripes were subjugated to a struggle for power between a Democratic-led Senate and a Republican-led House facing down a crucial election.

That election is now past. But not much else has changed.

Sure, Democrats have picked up seats in the Senate in a year when they were expected to lose ground — a testament to the strength of the party’s candidates and their message. But fundamentally, the balance of power in Washington hasn’t been altered one bit.

And neither has the roster of what these lawmakers have to tackle. The fiscal cliff — the combination of government budget cuts and scheduled tax hikes that start to take effect Jan. 1 absent congressional action — still is the first order of business for Congress.

But after a year and a half of bickering, lawmakers desperately need a fresh approach, or at least an infusion of camaraderie, to bring about a resolution and set the stage for other topics — such as immigration and energy — where the parties may find common ground.

Then again, it’s not as if the president was the first to qualify the spirit of compromise. Both Boehner and Reid beat him to the punch.

“A balanced approach isn’t balanced if it means higher taxes on small businesses,” Boehner said, moments after singing cooperation’s praises. “I’m not suggesting we compromise on our principles.”

“I’m going to do everything within my power to be as conciliatory as possible; I want to work together,” Reid said. “But I want everyone to understand: You can’t push us around.”

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  1. If you chose not to change that is why Romney lost. How many more years can the GOP and their lobbyist's afford to keep losing with their thinking?

  2. "Then again, it's not as if the president was the first to qualify the spirit of compromise. Both Boehner and Reid beat him to the punch."

    So few words say much, much more. One should look at Reagan and Tip O'Neil to get a sense of how deals are made between two parties saying they won't budge on principles.

    President Obama approach to compromise is wrong when comparing President Obama's approach to Reagan and O'Neil.

    Knowing how opposed the Republican congressional leaders were to President Obama, he did two things wrong 2 years ago when dealing with the House Republicans.
    (1) He said he was willing to work with them publicly.
    (2) He say he was willing to compromise publicly.

    On Friday 11-09-2012 the President gave ground again by saying publicly he is willing to compromise. Once you say what the President said publicly, this implies you will give up your position before the negotiations start. You walk into the negotiating room empty handed. By saying what the President said publicly, his is giving up ground he controls. Saying it also is send a white flag message to the opposition. You do not start negotiations in public, as President Obama done, again, by saying publicly He is willing to compromise.

    To be clear, the President should not say he unwilling compromise, or say he is unwilling to work with the other side. No, not all all.

    In other words, compromise and a willing to work with an opposing side is done behind closed doors, in words and in deed. You hold strong to your principle in public, and relax your position at the negotiation table.

  3. Karoun, I have to disagree with the statement that not much else has changed. I have worked both paid and volunteer in politics in 5 western states for the past 40 years. We all recognize that elected officials are dependent on financial backers and voters to keep them in office. Despite the bluster from Rove and comments from the online yappers about reasons for the loss and the win, most professionals in the field will, perhaps anonymously at this point, that the Republican product and message does not fit the demographic that they are attempting to reach. President Obama and the Democratic Party crafted a message which was more appealing to the target audience. Worse for the Republicans that demographic continues to work against them. The Republican Party has a core philosophy of fiscal conservatism which is reasonable even to me, a left-wing prairie populist: REA, public power, dams on the Columbia and all that. Americans are not by nature ideologues or zealots and the Republican diminishes its chances at broader support by pandering to those inclinations.

    We'll see what happens. But I believe that the more centrist and business elements of the Republican Party will prevail in the coming year. There will be the customary strum and drang but much of it will be posturing and PR. Personally, just for the sake of spectacle, I'd like to see the long knives come out as Ryan and Cantor look to kill Boehner, but I don't think that will happen.

  4. Does anyone believe if Romney had won he wouldn't be pushing Ryan's budget as a mandate?

    President Obama campaigned on the fact his policy would be allowing Bush's tax cuts on those making 250K or more would expire. Romney campaigned on the fact he wanted to extend all of Bush's tax cuts and cut more. Obama won...it IS a mandate on their campaign positions. Margin of victory has never mattered in the past when declaring a mandate, why now?

    The electoral win was a landslide and THAT is how we elect our President. Millions in California and New York don't bother voting because they know their state is solidly blue. If we changed to a popular vote you would see millions more in solid Blue/Red states voting, BUT we would see all campaigning directed at major population centers, which by the way are solid Blue, even in red states.

  5. Ms. Demirjian,

    Respectfully, this article is the first one in recent memory where you used logic, reason, and rational thought. I trust it won't be the last -- please continue.

    We need your voice and your position to help us get out of this mess.

    Regards,
    Purgatory

  6. Had the GOP come up with a candidate other than the one they chose the election would have a different outcome. Romneys arrogance and untouchable attitude cost the republicans another election. Obama has so many voters on welfare depending on him he could win 4 or 5 terms if it were allowed. HEY' GOP , come up with a candidate that can communicate with the common middle class voter, at least during the campaign.

  7. express445...

    Respectfully, those making over 250K are NOT in the middle class, let alone the 'heart of the middle class'.
    "now the only middle class left are those in the upper income level."
    What planet are you from?

  8. Mr. Sun,

    Please remove demforlife's 11.Nov.12 9:33 p.m. comment as he plagiarised another's words. Thank you in advance for your action.

    Regards,
    Purgatory

  9. Mr. Sun,

    Please remove demforlife's 13.Nov.12 10:46 a.m. comment as he has, yet again, plagiarised another's words. Thank you in advance for your action.

    Regards,
    Purgatory