Sunday, March 28, 2010

Obama on Offense

"Winning isn't everything," football coach Vince Lombardi famously said, "it's the only thing." Half a century later, as Republicans adapt that gridiron philosophy into a threat of political gridlock, Barack Obama is signaling it may not be a winning strategy.

As Congress left town this weekend, the President did an end run around their blocking of his executive choices by making 15 interim appointments.

“The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disprove of my nominees,” he said. “But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act...I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government."

If that sounds exaggerated, consider John McCain's reaction to passage of health care, “There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year. They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.”

As they take up the rallying cry of "repeal, replace and reform" of what House Leader John Boehner has called "Armageddon," Republicans see themselves in a battle of Biblical proportions that calls not just for defeating enemies but obliterating them.

After a weeklong acting out of rage and resentment by a Tea Party minority across the country, what Richard Nixon used to call "the Silent Majority" of Americans may be ready to recoil and get behind a President who is going about the business of acting in their interests to strengthen the economy and deal with international threats such as nuclear weapons.

When they do, the irrationality will fade and Democrats' losses in November may be minimized, but the long-term damage of winning as "the only thing" will linger on.

Paul Krugman put it best: "In the short run, Republican extremism may be good for Democrats, to the extent that it prompts a voter backlash. But in the long run, it’s a very bad thing for America. We need to have two reasonable, rational parties in this country. And right now we don’t."

Vince Lombardi knew that it takes two teams to play the game.

Update: To underscore his new political posture, the President makes a surprise visit to Afghanistan today to pressure Hamid Karzai and encourage American troops there. In the face of all-out GOP opposition, Obama seems to be echoing Admiral Farragut's classic response in the heat of Civil War battle, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

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