It seems hard to believe, but it was only a couple months ago that celebrity Donald Trump was flirting with running for the GOP nomination for president when he was thoroughly humiliated by President Obama at the White House Correspondent's Dinner:
“For example – no seriously – recently, in an episode of The Celebrity Apprentice, at the steak house, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. There was a lot of blame to go around, but you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was the lack of leadership, so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey.”
“These are the kind of decisions that keep me up at night,” said Obama.
The nation soon learned that the joke was all the more poignant because the president had spent the night before signing off on orders to kill Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani compound, a decision that certainly warrants missed sleep. With that information, the farcical Trump candidacy came to an end. Americans were reminded that politics and governing is actually serious business, not a reality show where the most obnoxious are rewarded with high standings in meaningless polls.
This situation seems to be playing itself out again this week. On Wednesday night, the 8 men and women vying for the Republican nomination debated at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The next night, President Obama presented the American Jobs Act to Congress, exhorting them to pass legislation that would strengthen America's economy in the short and long term.
The two events offer a vivid contrast between those who see governing as a legitimate and worthy endeavor, and those who engage in something less noble and almost a bit ridiculous.
Rather than offer serious ideas, most of the candidates spent their time Wednesday night conjuring up as many synonyms for no as they could muster. Health insurance reform? No. Economic stimulus? No. Science? No. And perhaps most disturbing of all was the question directed to Texas Governor Rick Perry about whether his overseeing of more executions than any other governor in modern times caused him anxiety. No.
Aside from some moments of serious introspection, mostly from Govs. Mitt Romney and John Huntsman, and even a brief moment of clarity from the struggling Rep. Michele Bachmann, the candidates focused mostly on throwing more red meat to an increasingly right-wing GOP electorate.
Why do 27% of Texans lack health care? Perry claims it's because they eschew government involvement in their lives. Should the US undertake comprehensive immigration reform? Only after building a gigantic fence, deploying troops, utilizing predator drones, and declaring English the official language. Accept a ridiculously off-balance deal that would see 10 dollars in cuts for every dollar in increased revenue? Nope.
Any idea that even hinted at compromise with the president or the Democratic party was anathema to the individuals on the stage.
Fast forward to Thursday evening when President Obama went to Congress and used his powerful oratory to urge an end to the childish bickering that was so prevalent this summer. Obama called on Congress to focus on the collective task at hand: providing for the welfare, safety, and prosperity of all citizens.
The president offered clear policy ideas to move the economy forward, including a plan "written by a Texas Republican and a Massachusetts Democrat." He offers ideas that may not be completely palatable to his base on the left, but pragmatic enough in an attempt to lure in some votes on the right.
Obama is not the savior that many in 2008 hoped he would be, but time and again he is willing to look for common ground with his recalcitrant opponents in order to enact policies to improve people's lives. He tries to govern while those on the far-right bicker and play.
The Republican Party showed its unwillingness to embrace clowns when Trump's support withered earlier this year. Joblessness and the economy will remain prodigious challenges in the months ahead, and those who vote in upcoming primaries must decide whether or not they will nominate a candidate who views public service as a noble calling that demands hard work and ideas or someone who is completely unqualified to govern but perfectly able to agitate and rile up a boisterous base. Luckily the GOP has a candidates who fit into both camps. The party, the general election, and the nation as a whole will benefit should voters decide on the former.
Michael J. O'Loughlin