Republicans reacted sharply on Wednesday to President Barack Obama's post-election speech, objecting that it showed he still "doesn't get" the message Americans are trying to send to him and the Democratic Party.
The president appeared somewhat subdued during his address, and described the historic gains by Republicans in the midterm elections as "a shellacking."
"It feels bad," Obama said.
The toughest thing, the president added, was seeing his fellow Democrats lose their jobs in droves after they had supported his agenda.
"There is not only sadness about seeing them go, but there's also a lot of questioning on my part, in terms of, could I have done something differently or done something more so that those folks would still be here?" Obama asked.
Republicans generally gave the president credit for adopting a more humble tone in his remarks than he evinced on the campaign trail, when he told Republicans they could come along for a ride but would have to sit "in the back."
But the president's critics noted his steadfast conviction that the bad economy, combined with the misimpression that the emergency actions his administration took at the height of the financial crisis represented an intrusive expansion of government — not his actual polices — that were to blame for Tuesday's election debacle.
"It was not any type of an acknowledgement that he heard what the voters had to say yesterday," says Ed Goeas, the GOP political consultant and Tarrance Group partner. "It was not an acknowledgement that there was in fact a wholesale rejection of his major policy initiatives. There was no acknowledgement that, in fact, he was talking as opposed to listening."
Goeas tells Newsmax that, "While the tone may have been perhaps correct, what was wrong totally was the reaction and the words behind the tone. I think it shows that he just doesn't get it."
Radio talk host and Fox News commentator Monica Crowley said Obama seems to be arriving a little late at the party.
"He blew through a lot of the political capital he had coming in on a healthcare bill that most Americans did not want and that we could not afford," Crowley said on Fox News. "Now I find it remarkable that he is saying, 'Well now we've got to focus on jobs, we've got to focus on improving relations with the business community, we've got to focus on economic growth.'
"He blew the first year and a half of his presidency focused elsewhere," Crowley said. "And now maybe the Republican Congress will force his hand on a lot of these issues to get economic growth going, namely the Bush tax cuts and so on. But even there he would only go halfway, and not say that he was for the extension of all of the Bush tax cuts."
Former Majority Leader Dick Armey, the tea party leader and chairman of the FreedomWorks grass-roots organization, tells Newsmax he does not believe Obama is capable of executing a Clinton-esque shift to the center in order to work with Republicans.
"I'll be surprised if he is. I don't think he has either the emotional or the intellectual ability to make the adjustments Clinton made," Armey says.
Asked what tack Republicans should take if Obama refuses to make concessions on issues such as the extension of the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000 per year, Armey says: "The dominant force in America today is the American people, not either political party nor any political personality in Washington. The difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is the Republicans have come to terms with that, and they have reconciled themselves to America.
"The Republicans have made their peace with America; they've got to get about doing their job now," Armey says. "The question is, can President Obama make his peace with the American people? And it's certainly not a question, 'can the Republicans find a way to get along with him.'"
As those reactions suggest, Obama will be greeted with skepticism when the new Congress takes office in January. And the rhetoric of the campaign trail — the president at one point urged Hispanics to "punish our enemies" — won't make resolving political differences any easier.
Goeas says the president who came to Washington promising a new era of bipartisan cooperation has "not been very presidential" and resorted to "rather harsh" language in the run-up to the elections. Yet in his speech Obama appeared to strike a conciliatory tone and called on legislators to agree without becoming disagreeable.
"I think the overwhelming message that I hear from the voters is that we want everybody to act responsibly in Washington," Obama said. "We want you to work harder to arrive at consensus."
Goeas' reaction: "I don't particularly like to sit here and be lectured that we need to now be civil," he says. "Because this was not about civility. This was not about simple disagreements.
"He is taking this country in directions that are scaring the American people to death. And he doesn't acknowledge that. And frankly what we've seen today is what we've seen the past two years."
The Republican strategist cites the president's decision not to signal flexibility on the Bush tax cuts for those in the higher brackets as one example, adding: "There is a total lack of understanding of how that process works, how a small-business mentality runs, why there needs to be some confidence level that they in fact are not going to be further punished and put on the line."
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