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Obama, the GOP and the politics of obstruction

With the election looming, a Times reader questions whether Republicans have given President Obama a level playing field.

June 23, 2012
  • Have Republicans stymied President Obama's efforts? Some letters writers to The Times think so.
Have Republicans stymied President Obama's efforts? Some letters… (Charles Dharapak / Associated…)

Responding to Doyle McManus' Op-Ed column Sunday on whether the November election represents a referendum on President Obama's job performance or a choice between two different approaches to government, reader Ken Fermoyle of Woodland Hills wrote:

"In this piece, as in so many others that discuss Obama's 'performance' over the past three-plus years, no mention is made of the GOP obstructionist policies that blocked most of the administration's efforts to create new jobs, especially during the past two years.

"In their policy of ensuring that Obama is a 'one-term president,' Republicans have put partisan politics first and Americans (except for the top 1%) a distant second. Corporations have helped, refusing to open their purse of trillions in cash hoards for new hires, instead demanding more and more from their vastly shrunken workforces.

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"Perhaps Obama could have been more forceful in some areas, but he faces a formidable wall of obstructionism, which should be considered in any appraisal or discussion of his performance."

Doyle McManus responds:

Fermoyle is right: I didn't mention the obstructionism of Republicans in Congress in that column — because the column wasn't an appraisal of Obama's performance. Rather, it was a comparison between the campaign messages of the two presidential candidates.

But Fermoyle's question is one that many supporters of the president raise, and it deserves an answer: Can Obama's performance as president be faulted when the Republicans in Congress have tried to stop him from enacting his agenda at every turn?

A complete response would take more than the space of this column allows, but here's a start: Yes, Republicans have obstructed the president's agenda. That's partly because they want him to fail politically, but also because there's such a wide gulf between their policies (a much smaller government that levies lower taxes on the wealthy) and his (an activist government financed partly by higher taxes on the wealthy).

Some obstruction by Republicans in Congress has been illegitimate; it's infuriating, for example, that Republican senators yanked their support for a bipartisan deficit commission as soon as Obama endorsed the idea.

But Republican opposition to the president's tax proposals or his healthcare law shouldn't come as a surprise.

In this unforgiving climate, Obama's job has been to co-opt, then to outfox

and now to out-campaign enough Republicans to keep his agenda moving forward. He hasn't been notably successful at the first two; for his sake, he'd better do better at the third.

As for the apparent suggestion that corporations have held back on hiring for political reasons, I don't buy it. I wish corporations were hiring more people, but they're mainly in the business of maximizing profits, not defeating the president — or, for that matter, creating jobs.


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