Wrong Movie

Advice for Obama: Forget Bulworth. Try Rambo.

Advice for Obama: Forget “Bulworth.” Try “Rambo.” By Michael Tomasky.

If ever there was a made-for-Twitter revelation, it was the little nugget in Peter Baker’s New York Times report Wednesday that had an aide saying Obama sometimes pines at the thought of “going Bulworth.” In all the commentary I’ve seen on this, I haven’t yet seen anyone point out that going Bulworth is a pretty stupid idea, because the Warren Beatty character, after enjoying a brief resurgence in the polls, became as I recall sort of a laughingstock (at least, that’s what I thought) and then ended up staging his own assassination at the depths of his self-loathing. No. If we’re going to delve into movieland for analogies, it’s not Bulworth that Obama needs to “go,” but Rambo—on the Republicans, and in a hurry.

The House hearings yesterday on the IRS matter only left the Republicans hungry for more. NBC’s Lisa Myers, who repeatedly proved back in the Clinton era that she had good Republican sources and that she took them at their word, now says the IRS chose to withhold information relating to the current mess until after last year’s election. This is meant, of course, to raise the specter that the White House was in on this, possibly the president himself.

Then we have Benghazi. And beyond that we have, you know, the actual affairs of state. This doesn’t quite qualify as that, since it’s a waste of everyone’s time and everyone knows it, but the House voted yet again to repeal Obamacare. Of course it hopes never to have to vote on background checks. But by cracky, a 38th meaningless vote to repeal the health-care act, let’s do it!

Meanwhile, Republicans have been meeting to figure out what pound of flesh to demand from Obama for raising the debt ceiling again this fall. They’ve run into a bit of a pickle on this one, you see, because the deficit is falling so much faster than anyone would have anticipated six months ago. That means that asking for more spending cuts doesn’t pack quite the punch it did two years ago.

You might think that would mean that well, they’d just let it go this time, eh? After all, the deficit is what they’ve been—what they say they’ve been—concerned about. But no—all it means is that they’re just going to switch gears and make other, newer, more stringent demands! Approve the Keystone pipeline. “Reform” entitlements. Ban late-term abortions. Late-term abortions? In return for an increase in the debt limit? That one, according to The Washington Post, wasn’t taken all that seriously even by the House GOP leaders. I say give ’em three months.

Then there’s the sequester. The dozens of nominations being blocked. The high-profile positions sitting empty, positions the GOP has clearly no intention of ever acting on. The intransigence on a budget deal. It’s a situation completely without precedent. In the face of it, Obama should be entertaining no Bulworthian self-loathing. He should instead be loathing the people who are trying to bring the government to a halt and trying to bring him down.

Throughout his first term, Obama was extremely hesitant to disdain or decry the Republicans. He was like one of Martin Seligman’s dogs in the learned-helplessness experiments. They’d administer a shock. He’d come back for more. I urge my Republican friends … I look forward to working with leaders of both parties … Oy.

In the second term, the rhetoric has toughened up a bit. His remarks the evening that the background-check bill failed in the Senate were passionate. At his recent press conference, the one where he said that “it’s not my job” to make Republicans behave, his tone was sterner. He’s right that that isn’t his job. But something else is his job: letting the American people know how fully and unremittingly obstructionist the opposition party is being.

He can’t change Mitch McConnell’s mind. The pundits who write that are just in fantasy land. But he can try to change the public’s mind. He can go to them and say enough. These people are betraying you and betraying America. And he can give a primetime Oval Office address to lay out the factual case (why, by the way, does he never, ever do this?). The number of bills filibustered. The number of bills that didn’t even make it to filibuster. The number of executive-agency appointments blocked. The number of judicial nominees blocked. The number of recess appointments he’s had to make. The exact nature of the fiscal offers he has put on the table, and a catalog of Republican rejectionism. I dare say that the facts of the case are about as overwhelmingly on his side as facts in a case can ever be.

Obama has been trying to avoid a direct confrontation with these people throughout his presidency. Well, it’s pretty clear now that he’s not going to get out of this without having it. With all these controversies bubbling, it may be coming sooner rather than later—and as much as I hate even writing these words, his ability to serve out the eight years, given how capable these people are of spinning accidents and errors into vast conspiracies, might depend on it. Forget the shades and ski cap. He needs to get that headband on.