Daily Archives: January 29, 2010

Obama at the Republican Retreat: How Long Will the Bipartisan Rhetoric Last? by Gregory Hilton

President Obama is receiving excellent reviews for his handling of questions in a bipartisan manner at yesterday’s House Republican retreat in Baltimore. He received what appeared to be an enthusiastic standing ovation. The GOP came off as civil and intelligent, and the questions were good even though some of them were long.
The President seemed reasonable and conciliatory, and his performance without the teleprompter was fine. He was introduced by House GOP Leader John Boehner (OH) who said we “need to listen to each other.”
I am glad the President finally said the Republican Party has offered substantive alternative proposals. You would never know that from listening to the news media which always claims the GOP has no answers.
It was the President, not the GOP, who requested media coverage. Perhaps he did that to correct what appeared to be an arrogant tone in the State of the Union. The performance was the closest we have ever come to the question time a prime minister has to face in the British parliament.
The President’s rhetoric matched the tone of the 2008 campaign, but not the past year on Capitol Hill. Republicans have been locked out of everything and all attempts at bipartisanship have been rejected. CBS’ Bob Schieffer in discussing the retreat said, “There was a totally different tone than what we’ve been seeing around here for the last few months.” Today’s New York Daily News commented: “President Obama and House Republicans engaged in a dialogue Friday that was extraordinary for being both public and civil. Please, sir, can we have some more?
“In an age when Democrats and Republicans seem unable even to order sandwiches off a lunch menu without finding cause for rancorous attacks (You had Russian dressing, you Commie!), Obama and a succession of GOP questioners went back and forth on health care, jobs, the deficit and more. The Republicans challenged; Obama defended.
“The exchanges were blunt, candid and most, important, substantive. In short, everyone acted like an adult. They talked to each other as people, not pinatas.”
The most stunning admission was when the President said the health care bill contained provisions which prevented people from keeping their current insurance and choosing the doctor they want. This violated the President’s health care pledge and he claimed it was “snuck in.” He promised to have them removed.
The theme of the conference was reaching out to independents rather than focusing on the party’s social conservative base. Republicans won a landslide in 1994 when independents favored the GOP by a 14 point margin. This outreach will not be difficult because there are plenty of issues now that appeal to both the Republican base and independents. Battles over abortion and immigration will be on the back burner. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) praised the attendees for their work on a new Contract with America, but this will not be revealed until September.