By all objective accounts, President Barack Obama gave a rave performance last Friday before the U.S. House Republicans in Baltimore.
The president was so deft and sure-footed that you almost felt sorry for the GOP lions as they were devoured by a lamb in their own den.
We came away impressed with the president's intelligence and confidence (bravery?)--and his grasp of important issues. But we also sensed that Obama doesn't quite understand what Republicans are all about--or perhaps he understands them but feels he can't take needed action because of sinister forces currently at work in the country.
After reading a transcript of the Q&A session, you realize that almost every question was based on a false premise--and the questioners almost had to know they were being dishonest. To put it in blunt terms, the GOP inquisitors were trying to cheat Obama by throwing bogus questions at him while TV cameras were rolling. Their goal almost certainly was to embarrass the president and send a message of fear to voters.
Obama handled the situation so smartly that the Republicans "political cherry bomb" appeared to blow up in their faces. But the occasion spoke volumes about the modern Republican Party, and Obama showed no signs that he is willing to give the GOP the serious spanking it so richly deserves.
Why did the Republicans behave the way they did last Friday in Baltimore? Because they've learned that such nonsense works.
For roughly 30 years, since Ronald Reagan opened his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, with a speech about states' rights, conservative Republicans have been marked by four traits:
* A willingness to twist the truth for political gain;
* A willingness to act corruptly in order to gain and consolidate political power;
* A willingness to make expert use of the race-based fear card in order to attract middle-class white voters; and
* A tendency to govern in such an incompetent fashion that voters turn to Democrats to clean up Republican messes.
Obama clearly wants to break this dysfunctional cycle. But we fear he's going about it the wrong way.
The president tried to reason with Republicans last Friday--politely, but bluntly, calling them on their false statements. For good measure, Obama seemingly tried to shame them into realizing that they needed to work with Democrats in a bipartisan, constructive fashion.
But here, we suspect, is the ugly truth about the modern GOP: You can't reason with them, and you can't shame them into doing the right thing.
That's because the modern Republican political brand, shaped by Reagan with several dollops of Nixonian skulduggery, remains intact. It never has been discredited the way it should have been long ago.
Bill Clinton, elected to clean up Republican messes in 1992, let the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations off the hook for their probable crimes. Now, Obama appears to be doing the same thing with the George W. Bush administration.
If Obama really wants Republicans to change--and it would be good for the GOP, and our country, if they did--he has to use the right kind of force. Republicans are like spoiled brats, who need several whacks on their collective fanny with a paddle. Until that happens, they will continue to engage in destructive behavior.
The best way to change Republicans, and the course of modern American history, is to fully investigate and prosecute the apparent crimes of the Bush administration. The Nixon/Reagan family tree has spawned some truly wretched apples--Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzalez, Dubya himself. Those bad apples need to be exposed and punished, so the GOP can begin the process of cleansing itself.
Obama, as the adult in the room last Friday in Baltimore, almost certainly understands this. But his administration clearly is reluctant to take action.
We wonder if that's because he knows the Bush family is little more than a glorified crime syndicate. And he knows that an investigation is not likely to stop with an underling such as Rove. Obama probably knows that the corruption went straight to Dubya, and the president must fear that pro-Bush forces might react violently if one of their own is sent packing to a federal prison.
Numerous reports have indicated that an extraordinarily high number of threats have been received against Obama. And that probably means security concerns also are high for his family members and administrative team.
Many of the threats apparently are race-based, coming from various skinhead and neo-Nazi groups. But we suspect that Obama feels threatened by forces that are far more powerful than skinheads.
Because of that, it appears that criminals in the George W. Bush administration never will be held accountable. And that means House Republicans are not likely to change any time soon.