Obama made his first post-presidential trip to the White House on Tuesday and showed he hadn’t lost a political step, telling demoralized Democrats – worried about a possible midterm election bombardment – to pull themselves together and to remember what political power is for.
But as much as anyone might want to believe, with Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine and ex-President Donald Trump’s fully signed Republican Party with democracy threatening authoritarianism, the good old days are a long way off. be gone – and he wasn’t that great. Either way, as anyone who remembers the fierce bickering over the passage of Obamacare and government shutdowns of that time will recall.
Yet, if things were bad then, they are unquestionably worse now.
Misinformation, conspiracy theories, lies, culture wars and thinly concealed racism now dominate Washington — and, judging by recent events, are seen by a growing number of lawmakers as a ladder to power. Obama is set to address misinformation in a speech from Chicago on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Trump’s sidekick Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida berated Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, warning that the chaos of the Afghan withdrawal and Russian invasion of Ukraine happened because the military American studied “awakening” instead of strategy.
Her outburst came within a week when Republican senators revived their slander against Jackson, portraying her as an enabler of sex offenders, despite a conviction record as a judge that is well within the mainstream. Although almost certain to be confirmed, Jackson’s treatment highlighted how the process of installing a new associate justice on the Supreme Court has become a vicious political game for grassroots voters.
Proving that the bar can always be lowered in Washington, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton – one of many senators who have used Jackson’s hearings to highlight his potential presidential ambitions – suggested that the first black woman named to sit on the highest bench in the land would have been lenient towards the Nazis. In a speech to the Senate, Cotton referenced former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who was the lead prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials of Adolf Hitler’s subordinates after World War II.
“You know, the last Justice Jackson left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremberg and pursue the case against the Nazis. That Justice Jackson could have gone there to defend them,” Cotton said.
In another sign of its twisted sense of right and wrong, the House GOP is already threatening to use its possible new majority next year to kill off the select committee probing a much bigger transgression, Trump’s incitement to Capitol uprising on January 6, 2021.
That the appearance of a former first daughter in front of such a body is now considered perfectly routine is a sign of how breathtaking Washington has become.
Obama is back
It had been more than five years since he had walked through the front door under the north portico. There was no way Trump would pick it up for the traditional unveiling of a former president’s portrait. And given Trump’s racist racism campaign against his predecessor, there’s even less chance that Obama showed up at such an event.
Obama, instantly at home behind the presidential seal on Biden’s podium, sweetly poked fun at his former vice president about his aviator sunglasses and love of ice cream. He began his speech by addressing his host as “Vice President Biden” before quickly recovering himself by saying, “That was a joke! But two people close to Obama later told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny that was a slip, not how Obama intended to begin his remarks touting the legacy of the Affordable Care Act.
He recalled the struggles the two men had together to finally pass the Affordable Care Act, which guaranteed health insurance to millions of Americans for the first time after it was signed into law in 2010.
Obama used this experience as a parable to urge Democrats not to abandon reform, even if it falls short of original aspirations.
“I’m outside the arena, and I know how discouraged people can be with Washington — Democrats, Republicans, independents,” Obama said. “Progress sometimes seems too slow. Victories are often incomplete. And in a country as large and diverse as ours, consensus never comes easily.”
The ex-president appeared to speak directly to his party, which has been torn by divisions between progressives and moderates that have stalled Biden’s ambitious social spending and climate change plan. As was often the case when he was president, Obama’s eloquence framed his party’s choices in simple but compelling language as he laid out a mission statement for the midterms.
“But what the Affordable Care Act shows is that if you’re driven by the central idea that together we can improve the lives of this generation and the next,” Obama said.
He added, “If you are persistent, if you stick with him and are willing to overcome obstacles and criticism and continually improve where you fail, you can make America better. You can make an impact on million lives.” .”
Obama’s faith in the American system seemed a bit archaic at a time when that democracy is under threat of death from Trump’s lies about voter fraud – and the ex-president’s apparent new campaign for a second term that would be surely even more authoritarian and unbalanced than his first.
Yet Obama also had the luxury on Tuesday of walking out of the White House and removing the tie he says he now rarely wears. The presidential burden of responding to Vladimir Putin’s atrocities, the raging storm of rising inflation and a likely Republican-hammered midterm election now falls on Biden.
Romney once led his party. Now he is an outlier.
When Romney was running to strip Obama of a second term in the White House in 2012, Democrats castigated the Republican nominee and former venture capitalist as a heartless and soulless corporate thief.
Now he might just be their Republican best friend in Washington – and the fact that in the space of 10 years he could go from being the leader of his party to a dissident of his Trump-era extremism shows just how much the GOP has changed.
In his own way, Romney also champions functional politics.
But the process has become so politicized that this is no longer the case. Democrats and Republicans are arguing over who puts ideology at the center of the process. But he has now become the main driver of confirmation hearings.
Romney – whom no one would confuse with a liberal – explained that after spending time with Jackson, he had changed his mind about him before his confirmation vote expected in the Senate this week.
“I became convinced that she is part of the mainstream. She is also a highly skilled, intelligent and capable person,” Romney told reporters. He said that while he doesn’t expect to agree with Jackson on everything, he will join Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Liza Murkowski of Alaska in supporting his nomination.
Romney also delivered another gift to the White House this week. He is leading a compromise campaign to secure $10 billion in funds for a new Covid-19 relief plan that the White House says is needed to stave off any future wave of the virus. The plan cuts funding for global vaccination campaigns that could stifle future variants. But Romney is the administration’s best hope for securing the Republican support that would be needed to force any eventual deal through the Senate.
Like Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the former GOP nominee is also one of the few in his party to speak out against Trump’s extremism, knowing that he excludes himself from his own party.
Obama’s swipe at his rival in a presidential debate that “the 1980s are now calling for the return of their foreign policy” was dripping with sarcasm. But subsequent events, especially the invasion of Ukraine, have shown that Moscow remains a leading adversary for the United States.
Romney’s corporate conservatism and rich-man ethos were fair game for Obama’s campaign in tough, tumble politics a decade ago.
But the moral courage Romney displayed at the end of his career shows that the Democrats’ caricature of a soulless man was deeply unfair.