After seven years in the White House, President Obama still hasn’t learned his lesson about Republicans. Case in point: his conclusion to last night’s State of the Union address.
Looking back on his time as commander-in-chief, the president regretted that he had not done more to change our country’s broken political system. Someone with the political “gifts” of Lincoln or FDR might have been able to do so, he said, but not him.
The idea here is that Lincoln and FDR were great presidents because they brought people together and forced them to make compromises. In other words, President Obama thinks that Lincoln and FDR were great presidents because they were “bipartisan.”
This is just flat-out wrong.
What made Lincoln and FDR great wasn’t the fact that they made compromises with their enemies; what made them great was the fact that they fought their enemies and supported policies that were right, even if they made people on the other side of the aisle really, really angry.
This probably sounds a little bizarre to some people.
Bipartisanship, or at least the myth of bipartisanship, is so ingrained in our culture that many Americans forget what it really took for great presidents to become great. This is especially true in the case of President Lincoln.
Although his leanings were always towards compromise, the things we most remember him for – fighting the Civil War, signing the Emancipation Proclamation and passing the 13th Amendment – happened when he stopped being a moderate and embraced the radicals in his party who wanted him to become more – not less – partisan.
FDR, similarly, was the opposite of bipartisan. He was the ultimate fighter and he kicked Republicans in the butt and took their lunch money, too.
Listening to his speeches now is actually pretty shocking. Not only did he call Republicans out for being shills for the super-rich and the robber barons, but he also called them the enemies of the people and the enemies of democracy.
Tragically, although it’s still very much true, President Barack Obama would never talk like that.
A great example of Roosevelt at the top of his game is the speech he gave on Halloween night, 1936, just three days before being elected to his second term as president. In that speech, he promised to keep on fighting his Republican enemies and the corporate elites they represented, telling his New York City audience that he “welcomed their hatred.” Talking like that is the reason FDR was elected president four times, and it’s the reason why he was arguably the greatest president in US history.
Being a great president doesn’t mean making compromises with the enemies of democracy, who have always existed in this country and this point in time just happen to control the Republican Party. Being a great president means fighting the enemies of democracy head-on, as Lincoln did when he was at his best, and as FDR did the entire time he was in the White House.
The fact that President Obama doesn’t understand this is his greatest flaw, especially because today’s Republicans are as determined to undermine democracy as any faction in American history. And that’s no exaggeration: conservatives literally planned to sabotage the Obama presidency the very first day it began.
On January 20, 2009, a night when the Obamas were dancing at inaugural balls, a group of Republicans were planning the end of the Obama presidency before it even got seriously going. At the Caucus Room restaurant in Washington, DC, they drew up a plan to intentionally sabotage Obama at every point possible.
On the guest list for this “invitation only” meeting were Republican Senators like Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl, Tom Coburn, John Ensign and Bob Corker. Also in attendance were Congressmen Paul Ryan, Pete Sessions, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy.
Over the course of four hours, this group of powerful white conservative lawmakers committed to a plan of action. They promised each other that they would filibuster and obstruct any and all legislation supported by the United States’ first Black President, Barack Obama.
As Mitch McConnell bragged, they would do everything possible, for as long as it took, to make his a “failed presidency.” Newt Gingrich, who was also there at the Caucus Room, admitted a few years later that Republicans were actually intentionally trying to sabotage the Obama administration.
The framers of the Constitution had a word for this kind of politics: They called it sedition, and there can be no compromising with people who practice sedition.
With hundreds of millions of dollars of billionaire money at their disposal, today’s Republicans are as dangerous as any group of economic royalists in US history. They have to be fought, not bargained with.
President Obama probably understands this better now, but he didn’t understand it for most of his presidency. And he still apparently thinks that “bipartisanship” should be the end goal of our political system, even though it’s obvious to everyone who’s paying attention that in today’s world, compromise-first politics are a recipe for a disaster.