President Obama was at his charming best yesterday as he faced hostile Republican House members, and if American voters are still in the mood for charm, his approval rating should be soaring today. But the historic meeting won’t achieve much else.
I am sure Obama knew how they would react. As he showed in yesterday’s historic meeting, he is no wide-eyed homeboy. He was quick on his feet, informed, witty and generally amiable, except when they blatantly crossed the line – as Texas right-winger Jeb Hensarling found out.
Pretending to ask a question, Hensarling fired off a volley of Tea Party “talking points” that included numerous half-truths, deliberate misinterpretations and downright fabrications. After listening – with a smile – for several minutes, the President cut in.
“I know there’s a question in there somewhere, because you’re making a whole bunch of assertions, half of which I disagree with,” he said.
And a more personal put-down was in store.
Hensarling had prefaced his attack with a claim to intimacy with the President, suggesting they had talked privately about the budget. But Obama (deliberately?) demolished any notion of intimacy by calling the Congressman “Jim” instead of “Jeb.”
The meeting left no doubt in my mind that the Republicans had come not to seek answers to genuine concerns but to air their familiar bumper-sticker sound bites as a prelude to the elections in November. They knew they would be on TV, and they hoped to score points with the voters. But, as far as I am concerned, all they managed to do was display their lack of social skills.
They came off as a pack of curmudgeons without grace or wit. Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence proved to be poster boy for Republican sourness, repeatedly sniping at the President and watching with mounting frustration as his barbs were effortlessly and smilingly deflected.
I didn’t hear anything new about the issues that have divided the two major parties throughout Obama’s first year as President. The Republicans reiterated their claims about the administration ignoring their great ideas on dealing with such challenges as a historic recession, snowballing government debt and a debilitating health care crisis. And the President kept pointing out, as he has done before, that the ideas had no numbers to back them up.
If they came up with solutions – with details – that could be verified by independent experts, he would be glad to accept them, Obama said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
What the meeting did was show American voters the difference between a smart, civilized President they can be proud to claim and a pack of churlish, unschooled critics that no one would want to be seen with in public. But the question remains: Will Obama’s charm win votes for the Democrats this fall?
After all, people tend to favor others who are like them, and a lot of voters are just as loutish as those Republican representatives.