A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Democrats and Republicans agreed on what constituted a real problem, and so they worked together to forge "big deal" legislation -- because deep down they understood that a meaningful future could only be reached by serious people standing shoulder to shoulder to make tough choices.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, because the Republican strategy has been to destroy the president at all costs -- including their own dignity -- the very idea that both parties would come together to agree on a "big deal" is a logical impossibility. Not gonna happen.
Three years into the Obama administration, most people in the country get this basic reality -- most people, that is, with one noteworthy exception.
Consider, for example, President Obama's latest boilerplate post-partisanship pitch in a USA Today Op-Ed, in which he very politely implores Republicans (most of whom spend their days trying to convince the public that he is a liar out to destroy America) to lay down their scorched-earth strategy (that almost delivered them both sides of Congress) and "do something big and meaningful":
This debate offers the chance to put our economy on stronger footing, restore a sense of fairness in our country, and secure a better future for our children. I want to seize that opportunity, and ask Americans of both parties and no party to join me in that effort.
Are we still on planet Earth? Nope.
For Democrats, this op-ed will all make sense. Fairness, opportunity, children -- that is the big deal Democrats want. Even with some painful restructuring of the social safety net, Democrats can hear the message. But for Republicans -- it sounds like a garbled transmission from another galaxy.
The Republican path to a "better future for our children" has nothing to do with anything in the Democratic Party vocabulary, let alone in their legislative "big deal" efforts.
In simple terms, the GOP ongoing "big deal" can be summed up as: destroy Barack Obama.
Of course, there is more to today's GOP than just the 24/7 cynical attempt to undermine the opposition standard bearer. But let's be honest, here -- not much more. And why should there be? They chose a long term strategy to win back all three branches of government, it has been working so far, and they are not going to change course.
What's more, most Republicans are satisfied with the out-of-date policy ideas devised by their party 40 years ago, which leaves of them plenty of free time to hammer away at Obama.
Ask a Republican what "big deal" they want on tax policy, and you get this: lower Obama's taxes (duh).
Ask a Republican what "big deal" they want on safety net programs: cut Obama's programs (double duh).
Ask a Republican what "big deal" they want on discretionary spending: defund Obama's spending (knock, knock... anybody home?).
Why, oh, why then are we still being dragged through these endless, "big deal" legislative battles that go on and on until everyone who once supported the White House -- who wants to support the president -- gets so fed up with all the compromises that they just turn away in disgust?
Maybe, just maybe, the answer simpler than we all think. Maybe somebody just needs to tell him to stop.
How many of you, like me, have fantasized about having a brief conversation of this sort with President Obama?:
BO: Thanks for stopping by.
Good morning, sir.
BO: What's on your mind.
Have you noticed, Mr. President, what counts as a "big deal" for Republicans, these days? It sure as heck does not involve restoring a sense of fairness.
BO: I have noticed.
For example: Today's GOP defines "big deal" as the freedom to buy inefficient lightbulbs and the right of states to secede so that citizens can be protected from having access to affordable health care. These positions are not even in the rational universe, sir.
BO: That is true -- good points. Go on.
Ask yourself this, sir: What is the biggest big deal for the Republican Party heading into the 2012 election? Answer: Barack Obama is the enemy of America.
BO: That doesn't even make sense.
Exactly -- it makes no sense. But the truth is that what counts as a "big deal" for Republicans sounds like a non-sequitor in response to most policy questions. And we are all sick of it.
BO: Nobody more than me.
With respect, then, sir, why are you still pushing for a post-partisan "big deal" that you know can never be achieved without so much compromise that every one who once believed in you starts to turn away in disgust?
BO: We need to cut spending somehow, so we need a deal. Plus, on the political side, to win -- polls show swing voters still respond to post-partisanship. We cannot just ignore the political landscape.
But the GOP will not let the nation default. That would be political suicide for them. So you have the upper hand. As for swing voters: they may respond to post-partisan poll questions, true. But what they respond to on the ground is leadership. Millions responded to leadership in 2008 and they will respond again in 2012. They will not respond, however, to watered down disappointments marketed as "big deals." So, get out there and push a bill that serves the public good, fires up supporters, and ruffles some feathers -- and the nation will rally behind you!
BO: I agree! We should have these talks more often.
Thank you, Mr. President.
OK, OK -- it's just a fantasy. We would all be a bit more nervous in reality. But I am sure that millions of Americans have imagined having some version of this conversation with the commander-in-chief. And why not?
It does little good for the country if time after time the legislative "big deal" delivered by the president is such a watered down compromise with a GOP out to destroy him, that most Americans throw their hands up and grumble, 'Not again...' No good at all.
Nobody knows for sure what will be in the final debt "big deal" or if there will even be a "big deal." But the way things are headed, it looks again like this White House has decided to compromise with the party out to destroy him, leaving millions more erstwhile Obama supporters hanging their heads in disappointment.
Each of us may not get the chance to have the talk with President Obama. But he can still listen. Before it's too late -- before the last supporter turns away in frustration -- he can still listen.