Obama in the Lion’s Den

| January 30, 2010 | 0 Comments
I came to Washington with a freshman congressman named Barney Frank. In his fourth month in Congress, he offered an amendment on the floor of the House that would have had the effect of reducing price supports for dairy farmers. His purpose was to build a record of fiscal responsibility in order to answer the question “Where are you going to get the money to pay for the increases you want in social programs.” At the time, the federal government was buying billions of pounds of dairy products due to over-production caused by high support prices. The case for Barney’s amendment was self-evident.

Nevertheless, farm state congressman were enraged by the amendment. They lined up by the dozens to take him on in debate on the floor. Many were very patronizing, suggesting this new guy from an urban area couldn’t possibly understand the complexities of agricultural economics.

He schooled them. He stood alone on the floor, took them on one by one, and demolished every argument. He clearly won the debate. It was, to coin a phrase, a slam dunk.

Of course, his amendment went down to defeat by about 70-360. It was an early lesson for me that being right, doesn’t mean you win.

I have never, before or since, seen such a display of intellectual courage…until yesterday. I thought Obama’s performance before the House Republican Conference was a tour de force. I thought he was tough, but not angry. Extremely knowledgeable, but not arrogant. And he had a few flashes of humor. The man is fearless.

He seems to be conducting an ongoing seminar testing the proposition that the American body politic can operate on an adult level. He refuses to succumb to soundbite politics that have typified most policy debate over the past 20 years. And he calls it out when others so engage.

David Axelrod has already suggested future encounters with the Republicans like this. Stay tuned. Frankly, I will be surprised if the Republicans agree. But, if they do, he will have real progress in changing the way things are done in Washington.

Meanwhile, in a further example of his wit and authenticity, he did a little color commentary on today’s Georgetown/Duke basketball game. I still love this man. Check it out.

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