Republicans in Congress — all but completely united in their effort to build a wall of obstruction in the path of President Obama’s economic revitalization effort — seem to be missing this essential point.
In a conversation with a small group of columnists aboard Air Force One on Friday, the president discussed the fight over his stimulus package, which was in the process of gaining final passage as he flew from Washington to Chicago for a brief rest with his family.
He said that the fact that he’d been rebuffed so far in his quest for bipartisanship would not stop him from reaching out for Republican support.
“Going forward,” he said, “each and every time we’ve got an initiative, I’m going to go to both Democrats and Republicans and I’m going to say, ‘Here’s my best argument for why we need to do this. I want to listen to your counterarguments. If you’ve got better ideas, present them. We will incorporate them into any plans that we make, and we are willing to compromise on certain issues that are important to one side or the other in order to get stuff done.’ ”
When I asked him if there was any reason to believe that the G.O.P. had made a good-faith effort at bipartisanship, given the fact that only three Republicans voted for the stimulus plan in the Senate and none in the House, he said he did not want to question the motives or sincerity of those who opposed the plan.
But he made a point of adding, “Now, I have to say that given that they were running the show for a pretty long time prior to me getting there, and that their theory was tested pretty thoroughly and it’s landed us in the situation where we’ve got over a trillion-dollars’ worth of debt and the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, I think I have a better argument in terms of economic thinking.”
He also made it clear that he won’t let his desire for bipartisanship undermine important initiatives. “I’m an eternal optimist,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I’m a sap.”
Mr. Obama’s tone and demeanor during the nearly hourlong interview was a duplicate of his nationally televised press conference last week.
He was relaxed and had complete command of a range of complex issues, including the troubled banking sector, health care reform and the need to do more in terms of innovative education initiatives.
But beyond his specific policies (and whether one supports them or not), Mr. Obama is emerging as the very model of the type of person one would want in high public office. He is intelligent, mature, thoughtful, calm in the face of crises and, if the nation is lucky, maybe even wise.
When asked about the sharp drop in the stock markets after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner announced an expanded bank bailout plan last week, Mr. Obama replied:
“I am not planning based on a one-day market reaction. In fact, you can argue that a lot of the problems we’re in have to do with everybody planning based on one-day market reactions, or three-month market reactions, and as a consequence nobody was taking the long view.
“My job is to help the country take the long view — to make sure that not only are we getting out of this immediate fix, but we’re not repeating the same cycle of bubble and bust over and over again; that we’re not having the same energy conversation 30 years from now that we had 30 years ago; that we’re not talking about the state of our schools in the exact same ways we were talking about them in the 1980s; and that at some point we say, ‘You know what? If we’re spending more money per-capita on health care than any nation on earth, then you’d think everybody would have coverage and we would see lower costs for average consumers, and we’d have better outcomes.’ ”
Near the end of the interview, the president said that there are certain moments in history when significant change is possible.
“It’s not a certainty,” he said, “but it’s possible.”
He said he believed that it’s very difficult for any single individual to actually set that kind of “momentum” for change in motion. But when that historical wave is there, he said, “I think you can help guide it.”
When asked if we are in one of those moments now, he said, “Yes. I firmly believe that.”