Michael Barone: Obama can't abide views he doesn't share

BY MICHAEL BARONE Published: January 19, 2013
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To judge from his surly demeanor and defiant words at his news conference on Monday, Barack Obama begins his second term with a strategy to defeat and humiliate Republicans rather than a strategy to govern.

His point-blank refusal to negotiate over the debt ceiling was clearly designed to make the House Republicans look bad.

But Obama knows very well that negotiations usually accompany legislation to increase the government's debt limit. As Gordon Gray of the conservative American Action Network points out, most of the 17 increases in the debt ceiling over the last 20 years have been part of broader measures.

Working out what will be in those measures is a matter for negotiation between the legislative and executive branches. That's because the Constitution gives Congress the power to incur debt and the president the power to veto.

Obama supporters like to portray Republican attempts to negotiate as hostage-taking or extortion. But those are violent crimes. Negotiations are peaceful acts.

What we do know, from Bob Woodward's “The Price of Politics,” is that Obama is not very good at negotiating. He apparently can't stomach listening to views he does not share.

Perhaps that is to be expected of one who has chosen all his adult life to live in university communities and who made his way upward in the one-party politics of Chicago. Thus on the fiscal cliff he left the unpleasant business of listening to others' views and reaching agreement to Joe Biden.

Obama has laid down another marker in his puzzling nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense.

As The Washington Post editorial writers pointed out, Hagel — though a nominal Republican — has stood way to the left of Obama on whether a military option to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program is feasible.

Obama has said repeatedly that that option, however risky and unpalatable, is on the table. Hagel has said it shouldn't be.

It's not at all clear that Hagel has the experience and temperament to head the Pentagon. His vocal defenders tend to concentrate on attacking his detractors rather than make the affirmative case for his qualifications.

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