Obama Is Playing Hardball, and Guess Who Doesn’t Like It?

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The Washington Post is unhappy with the “certitude” with which President Obama is defending the Iran nuclear deal. Normally, the Post would prefer more certitude in Obama’s foreign policy, but whatever. Then there’s this:

After six-plus years of a presidency in which Mr. Obama has himself been the target of relentless, often unfair, often purely partisan attacks, we can understand why he’s gotten a bit jaded about seeking bipartisan support and feels justified to respond in kind.

….Still, by not sticking to the merits of the deal, Mr. Obama implies a lack of confidence in them. The contrast is striking between the president’s tone today and his 2008 speech accepting the Democratic nomination: Looking ahead to debating his GOP opponent, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), he pledged that “what I will not do is suggest that the senator takes his positions for political purposes, because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and each other’s patriotism.” There’s a sad progression from that aspiration to an approach that is all about winning, even if it has to be winning ugly.

Let’s recap. Obama’s opposition doesn’t even bother offering any plausible alternative to the deal. Every single Senate Republican opposes it. Every single one—including the supposed moderates. The vast majority opposed it before they even had a chance to read it. Jeb Bush called it “appeasement.” Ted Cruz said it was a “fundamental betrayal of the security of the United States.” Marco Rubio declared that Obama had offered “concession after concession to a regime that has American blood on its hands.” And Rubio was just one of many who said everyone should understand that this was Obama’s deal, not a real American treaty, and he would rescind it immediately upon taking office. So much for America’s word on the world stage.

It’s unclear to me what you can draw from this other than the fact that Republican opposition is (a) noxious and (b) largely politically motivated. Sweet reason is not going to change their minds, so Obama’s best hope is to appeal at least partly to partisanship in order to keep enough Democrats in line to get the deal approved.

This is the kind of thing the Post often wishes Obama would do. Be more like LBJ! Figure out a way to get things done. Don’t expect that just giving a lovely speech will turn people around.

Well, now he’s doing it. Contrary to what the Post says, Obama has, in fact, defended the deal on its merits over and over. But he’s also learned that this will get him nowhere with Republicans, especially while a presidential campaign is underway. So he’s taking the only option open to him, whether he likes it or not. That means hitting his opponents hard. It means revving up the Democratic base to stand by him. It means using the bully pulpit to counter millions of dollars in advertising from opponents of the deal.

This is politics. This is how presidents get things done. Occasionally it gets a little nasty, and fainthearted folks will tsk tsk. But the Post knows well that there are sometimes no alternatives when the opposition party is as determined to destroy you as the modern Republican Party is. We can all wish things were different, but they aren’t. Obama is playing the cards he’s been dealt.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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