In big-time politics, a politician’s strength is, to his foes, a glaring weakness. Until, that is, a foe becomes something resembling an ally. Then the one-time foe touts the one-time weakness as the right tactic to make the issue that forged the alliance a reality.
Confused yet? Don’t be. This tangled web is merely the latest development in the posturing and prodding to strike a “grand bargain” fiscal deal that likely — probably, maybe — would replace the much-maligned sequestration cuts. Let’s untangle things to see just how quickly enemies can become allies.
For much of the first three months of 2013, congressional Republicans told reporter after reporter that to avoid the twin $500 billion, decade-spanning cuts to planned defense and domestic spending President Barack Obama had to “lead.” They asked rhetorically why Obama, if he really wanted to turn off the cuts, had not called lawmakers to the White House for a sequestration summit.
Obama took his sequestration-avoidance message straight to the American people in March. Obama spoke in the rousing style that helped him win the White House in 2008, usually before large crowds that enthusiastically cheered his criticisms of the GOP. And Republican leaders pounced, repeatedly hammering Obama for his sequestration tour.
“You know, we went through months of campaign-style events all over the country, and I did have a conversation with the president about it,” House Speaker John Boehner said March 7.
The Speaker’s jab came less than 24 hours after Obama dined at Washington’s upscale Jefferson Hotel with a dozen Republican senators who have talked about finally striking a bipartisan “grand bargain” fiscal accord that has eluded Obama and Congress since deficit-reduction became a major goal for both parties around 2010.
One of the GOP senators at that dinner was Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the aforementioned foe-turned-ally.
“[Obama] is going to have to stand at the podium at let Americans know,” Corker told Defense News on March 21, just before Congress left for a two-week recess. “I think once we see him do that, at the podium, on a non-stop basis, we will know he’s really in a mode to do the things that our nations needs us to do. … He’s got to begin talking about these [fiscal] issues in a campaign-style mode, like he’s done on other things.”
An alleged weakness, now a preferred tactic. It can happen that fast in Washington, even in this bitterly partisan era. Just another day on the “grand bargain” beat.