Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 9, 2012

RONNIE ELLIS: A move to the political center?

By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — If Mitch McConnell includes a chapter about the past four years in his memoirs, he should entitle it “The Audacity of NOPE!”

No was the starting position of the Senate Republicans McConnell leads in every negotiation with President Barack Obama. McConnell famously said his number one priority was to ensure “Barack Obama is a one-term president.”

Less noticed was a Sept. 3 TIME Magazine article by Michael Grunwald, “The Party of No.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Obama promised post-partisanship, and Republicans could turn him into a promise breaker by withholding their support. Or as Ohio Senator George Voinovich summarized the strategy: ‘If Obama was for it, we had to be against it.’”

I asked McConnell if the article is accurate.

“Well, George can speak for himself but, as I recall, he supported our position on every major issue,” McConnell responded.

Sounds like “yes” to me.

Tuesday McConnell and the rest of us learned his strategy didn’t work. Obama was re-elected and a Senate which everyone assumed was poised to change hands saw Democrats add two seats to their majority — again denying McConnell his ultimate goal of becoming Majority Leader.

Here is McConnell’s reaction:

“To the extent (Obama) wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we’ll be there to meet him halfway.”

Given his record over the last four years, that’s an audacious statement. Whether or not you like Obama and his policies — and clearly most Kentuckians don’t — here is the president’s record.

He offered $2.50 of spending cuts for every $1 of new taxes. He deliberately chose a Republican model for health care reform (the mandate was originally proposed by The Heritage Foundation and then implemented by a certain Republican governor of Massachusetts), hoping to secure bi-partisan support. He crafted his stimulus plan so one-third of it was in the form of tax cuts — hoping to secure Republican support.

He didn’t get any.

When Obama got “shellacked” in the 2010 mid-term elections, he did something presidents just don’t do. Chastened, he went to Capitol Hill to meet with opposition House Republicans. His party’s congressional leaders weren’t happy, but Obama said he’d learned the lesson of the election and wanted to work across the aisle.

One problem — arriving on Capitol Hill, Obama was handed a copy of an email from Speaker John Boehner to his conference saying in advance Republicans would not agree to anything Obama proposed. Obama went ahead with the meeting.

Republicans’ and McConnell’s line in the sand is no higher tax rates for the wealthy (who enjoy the lowest tax rates in more than half a century).

If McConnell wants to find the political center he should look at Tuesday’s election results.

Obama was correctly criticized for not laying out a specific plan for the next four years, but on one thing he was absolutely clear. In every campaign speech, in all three debates, and in television ads, Obama unequivocally stated his position of “asking the wealthy to pay a little more” while at the same time lowering corporate taxes. His opponent said he’d lower taxes on the wealthy.

Obama won a small but convincing majority in the popular vote. That’s fairly amazing for an African-American president facing a slow recovery from a near-depression and four years of efforts by critics to de-legitimize him and his first election.

Exit polls indicate 60 percent of voters — all voters, not just those who voted for Democrats — favor higher taxes for the wealthy. That means a lot of Republicans prefer Obama’s position to McConnell’s.

Sound a bit like the political center?

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.