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Disconnect between Obama and the Republican Party

A day­long con­fer­ence at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity on Thursday will explore the fas­ci­nating sub­plots of the polit­ical land­scape now that the 2012 elec­tions are less than a year away. The event was orga­nized by North­eastern Uni­ver­sity polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor William Crotty, the Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life. To pre­view the con­fer­ence, we asked Crotty to examine how Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has fared in his first term in dealing with resis­tance from the Repub­lican Party.

How does the political dynamic play out with the president in one political party and the opposing party with strong control of at least one legislative chamber?

In this sce­nario, the prospects for con­flict and poten­tial stale­mate are great. It takes a will­ing­ness to rec­og­nize a national need, a mod­er­a­tion in approach and a tol­er­ance for an opponent’s con­cerns to enact mean­ingful policy ini­tia­tives. This may be vir­tu­ally impos­sible to achieve, given the con­tem­po­rary polit­ical cli­mate of extreme party polar­iza­tion and the nation’s eco­nomic woes. This type of dead­lock has occurred in the past. It is rooted in the electoral-​​group base of the par­ties and the leg­isla­tive dis­tricting that estab­lishes one-​​party out­comes in so many House dis­tricts. It will take more than exhor­ta­tions to restruc­ture the shape of the polit­ical world.

How have congressional Republicans specifically engaged Obama in his first term?

The Repub­lican Party in the Con­gress appeared to sense Obama’s vul­ner­a­bility in the face of a united, intran­si­gent oppo­si­tion early on in his pres­i­dency. He appeared to accom­mo­date rather quickly to their views in an effort to achieve a more civil, and — in his view — pro­duc­tive pres­i­dency. It did not work. Such an effort would require a pres­i­dent who could demon­strate his lead­er­ship skills and his ability to, in this case, turn a dom­i­nant elec­toral vic­tory into a sig­na­ture leg­isla­tive pro­gram. Pres­i­dent Obama was not able to achieve this. Early on, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Repub­lican Party would do all in its power to ensure that this pres­i­dency would fail. I cannot recall another public state­ment like this by a party leader in any pres­i­dency. They have been true to their word.

How has congressional resistance played out historically?

There are many exam­ples of intense con­gres­sional resis­tance to a president’s agenda. This is not new. What is new is the tone of the exchanges and the will­ing­ness to repeat­edly hold the gov­erning system hostage to get their ends. This strategy has enjoyed suc­cess. The pres­i­dent has chosen to give in repeat­edly. He has relied on advi­sors and poli­cies car­ried over from the Bush admin­is­tra­tion, and he has chosen to follow eco­nomic poli­cies that brought on the Great Reces­sion. It is a chal­lenge to iden­tify his core values and what exactly he stands for with con­vic­tion. Among other things, the pres­i­dent has proven him­self to be a poor com­mu­ni­cator and a polit­ical leader without emo­tion. He is detached — he lacked a spe­cific policy pro­gram upon entering the pres­i­dency and there­fore leaves it to the Con­gress to work out the essence of poli­cies. Rather, he comes in at the end to move the com­bat­ants the final few yards to a res­o­lu­tion — all of this in a time of fun­da­mental party divi­sion. It is an approach unlike any pre­vious pres­i­dent I know of. In my opinion, the Repub­li­cans in the Con­gress have been irre­spon­sible, but you cannot lay all of the blame on them.

– by Jordana Torres

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