What They Can't See

My oldest son is fascinated with with idea of driving. Occasionally, he'll sneak into the front seat and pretend to drive. He's got the movements down pat -- the hands at 10 and 2, even the ability to yell at other people while honking the horn. Basically, he gets what driver's are supposed to do, but he still can't see over the steering wheel.

I'm reminded of this after reading Ron Fournier's latest column in the National Journal. For a few weeks now, Fournier has been putting out stories where he admits that Republicans are being obstinate, and that the President has offered up compromise. Yet despite acknowledging the playing field, Fournier still blames the president for the lack of a deal. Like my son in the driver's seat, he understands the concept, but he still can't see what's directly in front of him.

Fournier is the classic Beltway writer in many ways. He knows the language and the players. But more than anything else, he's the epitome of the truly lazy and guilt free efforts of most Washington scribes -- the "pox on both houses" copouts that dominate the coverage when bipartisanship fails.

You see, it's much better for writers to blame both sides when things go awry. This way, they can't be accused of the dreaded bias, even when the facts lead them to believe that it is mostly the fault of one party. And clearly, Fournier believes that the GOP has been holding things up in Washington. He has admitted that the GOP is blocking the action, and that more revenues are need.

Republicans, heeding the 2012 election results, bowed in January to Obama's demand for $600 billion in tax increases. Now they stubbornly cling to a position of "no more." Republicans rejected Obama's plan to avert across-the-board spending cuts March 1 by replacing the so-called sequester with a mix of $110 billion worth of new taxes and more narrowly tailored spending cuts.

If the GOP truly refuses to budge -- if its obstinacy is not, as I'd like to believe, merely a play for leverage -- then blame and ignominy will fall to House Speaker John Boehner and his troops.

In the last week, three senior members of the Republican Party have told me that the House GOP is making a dire mistake to think voters will consider this "the president's sequester." Yes, the White House proposed the gimmick, but only as a way to avert a GOP-backed debt crisis, and the House Republican leadership supported sequestration. More broadly, there is no way to seriously reduce the U.S. debt without more revenue, which means raising taxes.

Fournier has also admitted that the president has offered compromise to the GOP, and they haven't taken him up on it.

President Obama makes a credible case that he has reached farther toward compromise than House Republicans.

While Obama has reached further rhetorically toward compromise than Republicans have on sequestration and long-term debt ...

So Fournier basically believes the president has tried to compromise, and the Republicans have "stubbornly" clung to their position of no more revenue increase. Fournier also believes that the president's position of needing revenues and cuts, is the right prescription. So if the president has the right policy and the Republicans are blocking him, why does Fournier still ascribe blame to Obama?

It's one word -- Leadership. It's a magical beast for Fournier, along with other writers. They believe if Obama would just lead, things would be better. Fournier admits, however, that he has no idea what "leading" would look like in this instance.

"the president eventually needs to lead a stubborn Congress to actual compromise and accomplishment.

His aides and allies will ask, "Exactly what can he do to get the GOP to deal?" That is a question best put to the president, a skilled and well-meaning leader elected to answer the toughest questions."

To paraphrase Justice Stewart, Ron Fournier can't describe leadership, or even explain how it would work in this case, but he'd know it when he saw it. This magical unicorn theory of leadership allows him and others to ignore the facts directly in front of their faces.

For Fournier, leadership is tied to an end result, which is ridiculous. Leadership isn't solely about outcomes -- plenty of great leaders (Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Vince Lombardi, Michael Jordan), suffered losses. Leadership is setting the right course, which Fournier admits the president is doing with his policies.

Even sillier is Fournier's insistence that the president's public relations efforts don't equate to leading. If he can't get Republicans to the table by reason, maybe he can get them to the table by applying public pressure. What Fournier dismisses as campaigning could also be seen as an attempt to (wait for it) lead the Republicans to do the right thing.

But that hasn't swayed Fournier. While he complains, the president is actually leading. But Fournier can't see it from where he sits.