President Barack Obama ended what was dubbed the “charm offensive” by the popular media last week, where he met with Democrats and Republicans in both chambers of Congress to attempt to build trust between the parties. People hoped this would lead to a new period of bipartisan cooperation, but it is more complicated than it seems.
The president’s new charm offensive, if it works at all, won’t break through the mutual distrust that is one of the causes of our current fiscal issues. Mistrust isn’t cured in a week, it isn’t cured by one meeting or discussion; it is cured by a prolonged
change in the mutual relationship between people.
Political website Roll Call has done significant reporting on this issue and did a number of interviews with Representatives and Senators in a March 12 article. They report that even the Republicans most willing to compromise with the Democrats are skeptical of the president’s new approach.
If I were a Republican lawmaker, after all the things the president has said and done, I would be skeptical as well. According to a Feb. 22 Washington Post article, the president decided he wanted to raise taxes more after making a deal that taxes would be raised when the sequester was delayed and spending cuts would be made to replace the sequester. He blamed Republicans for the creation of the sequester, even though, according to the Washington Post, the idea came from the White House.
There have also been many other episodes similar to this, like during a 2011 campaign speech when the president claimed Republicans want “dirtier air [and] dirtier water,” according to an Oct. 17, 2011 article on Real Clear Politics.
This is all embodied in what a March 15 Politico article reported Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, told Fox News his favorite moment of one of the meetings was when one of his fellow senators told the president.
“You know, Mr. President, it’s not all that helpful to have you publicly questioning our motives,” Lee said. “Publicly accusing us of wanting to eviscerate Medicaid, for example, simply because we want to call for reform or block grants.”
There are also a number of cases where people on the Republican side have done similar things to the president and other Democrats, which is why blaming one party or the other is not the answer.
The point is that we have hit a point of self-perpetuating distrust cycle, where one side’s distrust causes them to take actions that make the other side distrust them even more. This cycle will not be broken easily or quickly; it won’t be like flipping a switch.
Ridding ourselves of this culture of distrust will take time, goodwill and cooperation on both sides. Now we just need to see if it will ever actually happen.