In an extraordinary and at-times comical about-face, Fox News has ushered in the New Year by joining forces with Republicans to denounce President Obama for obstructing Congress and standing in the way of legislative accomplishments.
The beauty of the Fox performance is that hardly anybody breaks character by dipping into reality and acknowledging, 'Oh by the way, Republicans did just spend the last six years blocking every conceivable Obama initiative.' Instead, the script is adhered to with stoic loyalty and the meme marches on: The Republican Congress is eager and willing to get the job done if only Obama would act! It's an amazingly disciplined, although thoroughly oddball, propaganda performance.
“There's new energy and renewed vigor on the Hill to get something done,” Fox's Kimberly Guilfoyle announced on The Five. “But what's really going to poison the well is Obama with the pen. If he's going to sit there and be an obstructionist, and uses pen to be -- so it's really going to put -- you know, a drain on kind of any energy working on bipartisan things together.”
Host Megyn Kelly was concerned last week that Obama's stated opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline might represent a “thumb in the eye” to the new Republican-controlled Senate. And Fox contributor Karl Rove advised Obama that if he vetoes Republican bills, “it's going to simply build the image of him as being obstructionist. That's not going to be healthy for his last two years in office.”
The beauty of the Rove comment was that it was immediately followed by this observation from host Greta Van Susteren about Obama: “Many Republicans are right in his face saying they want to repeal Obamacare.”
And she's right. Republicans have exerted unprecedented time and energy to try to undo Obama's landmark legislation from his first term. Republicans, cheered on by Fox News and the right-wing media, have waged an unrelenting political and legal war to dismantle Obamacare. And last week Van Susteren marveled that Republicans were once again right in Obama's face trying to repeal--to obstruct--Obamacare. Yet moments earlier Rove lamented Obama's supposed obstructionist streak? Both talkers pretended to be clueless about the glaring contradiction.
Meanwhile, Fox has welcomed a parade of Republicans who suddenly can't wait to legislate and who condemn the Democrats' obstructionist streak. “The American people are tired of the gridlock and the hyper-partisan environment here in Washington,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) told Fox News on January 7. “The election sent a very clear message, the people want to see the congress working together again.”
This is almost two funny for words. Not the part about Americans wanting politicians to work together to get things done. (They definitely do.) But the idea that the midterm elections sent Congress and the White House a prescient and unprecedented memo: Work together. Because I'm pretty sure that by rewarding Obama with electoral landslide victories in 2008 and 2012, voters also “sent a very clear message.”
The GOP's response to that message? Not only to ignore it, but to systematically block it, of course. They rewrote the guidelines of obstructionism (even before Obama took office) and reveled in a strategy that often careened towards deliberate sabotage; towards making sure the federal government couldn't function as planned, and couldn't effectively deal with the pressing issues facing the country. ( “Legislative constipation,” as Vanity Fair's James Wolcott put it.)
“If [Obama] was for it,” former Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich once explained, “we had to be against it.”
For six years, the game unfolded like this: Obama couldn't “produce” legislatively (because the GOP wouldn't let him), so the GOP touted Obama's inability to produce as his signature failure. And it worked in 2014. “Obstruction has just been rewarded, in a huge way,” wrote Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast following the midterm elections. Suddenly however, with GOP majorities in the House and Senate and Republican very much in the mood to produce legislatively, they're complaining Obama just won't let them. Talk about a flip-flop.
But doesn't Obama's threat of a Keystone veto represent obstruction, regardless of Fox's previous stance? Is the conservative media mantra that Obama's doing everything in his power to block the Republican agenda a legitimate claim?
It is not.
Congress passing bills only to have them vetoed by sitting presidents is how our democracy has worked for centuries. There's nothing unusual or newsworthy about a veto threat or two from Obama's Oval Office. (Ronald Reagan issued 39 vetoes and 39 more pocket vetoes while in office; Obama has signed just two.)
By contrast, what the obstructionist Republican Party did following Obama's 2008 election was nothing less than rewrite the rules of minority party governance. The recently concluded Congress obliterated all previous records for diminished output because the Republican Party, and especially those in the Republican-run House, purposefully bottled up as many initiatives as possible, and unleashed "procedural sabotage." (Republicans even obstructed disaster relief aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy and blocked health care relief for 9/11 first responders. Who does that?)
Remember after Obama's easy 2012 re-election how Republicans launched an unprecedented, preemptive campaign to make sure Susan Rice was not picked as Obama's next Secretary of State? Then they engineered an unheard push to try to stop Republican Chuck Hagel from becoming Secretary of Defense.
In 2013, the Senate, by the wide margin of 68-32, passed an immigration bill that included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. For more than a year, House Speaker John Boehner refused to allow members to vote on the bill, even though it likely had enough support to pass. Boehner wouldn't even allow the House to enter into negotiations with the Senate to try to hammer out a final bill.
And of course that same year Republicans banded together to block any Senate vote to expand background gun checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre. The bill's aim was supported by an extraordinary 90 percent of the public, but the GOP would not allow a vote to take place. Commented Pennsylvania Republican Senator, Pat Toomey at the time: “There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”
But only now on Fox News is “obstructionist” treated as a dirty word.