In the days after Barack Obama’s decisive re-election on Nov. 6, we began to see some real soul searching among leading Republicans. Encouraging messages seemed to indicate a change in the political climate. There was talk of compromise on the so-called fiscal cliff, the possibility of revisiting immigration reform, and the general admission that the loss to Obama meant that the GOP had to take note about its losses with minorities, urban voters, single women and the young. But that was before anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist began to hit the airwaves. Now, Republicans seem to be back to their pre-election orthodoxy on taxes and spending cuts and are playing politics once again, just five weeks after their defeat.
While some Republicans, such as Senator Saxby Chambliss, took some distance from Norquist, it seems that House Republicans and their Speaker, John Boehner, began to feel the heat. Boehner has chosen to stake his positions through media interventions, essentially repeating his election campaign mantra that spending cuts must be the primary solution to avoid the fiscal cliff at the end of the month. Only spending cuts will bring long-term growth to the U.S. economy, Boehner argues.
Republicans can rightly argue that Obama did not appear any more intent on working out a deal by continuing his campaign-style demeanor in certain segments of the country. Obama has continually repeated that he has a mandate to build on his balanced approach, and to increase taxes for the top two per cent. Fortunately, in recent days, both Obama and Boehner have finally begun talking and Boehner made expected concessions over the weekend.
Like it or not, Obama’s approach seems to be working for voters. Recent polls have indicated that Obama has clear support to raise taxes on the very rich. While some spending cuts are expected, these same polls indicate the public wants the president to protect the entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The Republicans, on the other hand, seem unable to develop a coherent position that accounts for their disappointing election results and a changing electorate. The polls are now reflecting decreasing support for the GOP positions.
This erratic behavior on the part of Republicans has surfaced in another unrelated issue. The Republicans have decided to target UN Ambassador Susan Rice on the embassy incident in Benghazi last September. In this case, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have led the crusade against Rice, questioning both her integrity and her competence. Available verifiable evidence indicates that McCain and Graham are off the mark, and that Ambassador Rice had intervened in the days following the Benghazi events, using authorized talking points. Ambassador Rice has since withdrawn from consideration to be Hillary Clinton’s successor as Secretary of State in order, to avoid a long and divisive confrontation process in the Senate.
Playing politics five weeks following an election defeat will not endear the Republicans to the electorate. Attacking Rice — a qualified, experienced and respected diplomat — based on questionable evidence, will also do little to make the GOP appear inclusive. Repeating the anti-tax rhetoric of a failed campaign will not make the Republicans a constructive force for compromise. The American voters have spoken: they want compromise, they want a balanced approach on the fiscal cliff issue and they want results. Those were the lessons of campaign 2012 as Obama won with more than 50 per cent of the vote and made gains in the House and Senate. The Republicans still don’t get it.