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GOP's obstructionism stains Democrats' image with voters

By not cooperating with the president on his signature issues, Republicans have made it appear he is ineffective.

President Obama and his family were in Maine just a week or so ago.

By all accounts, they had a typical Maine summer vacation experience, filled with lots of outdoor activities, and the requisite number of lobster rolls.

Seeing the president, Michelle and their two girls on summer vacation, enjoying the kinds of things many of us enjoy in the summer, takes some of the edge off the corrosive political dialogue that often magnifies our differences and adds an unpleasant element of personal vilification to national politics.

The most recent issue of The Economist has a column "respectfully proposing a temporary ban on references in political debate to both American greatness and American exceptionalism." It makes the case for the ban because those overworked phrases in American political debate have lost all serious meaning.

By way of explanation, the British newsweekly refers to President Obama's rather innocent and diplomatic comment in France last year when asked if he believed in American exceptionalism.

He said he did -- and also that others like the Brits (it was a British reporter who asked the question) probably thought of themselves as exceptional.

Some conservatives have seized on this comment as showing that the president is somehow not worthy of his office.

Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post penned the most recent comments on the president's response -- suggesting that it shows the president does not truly believe in American greatness.

We could write Krauthammer's column off as simply representing a slow week and a dearth of good material, but for the fact that his was one of several similar columns on this issue from the pundits of the right.

I am sympathetic to The Economist's plea. It is summer -- a time when most Americans put politics aside.

We tend to take a more relaxed view on life -- often by getting away for a few days of vacation, by putting aside hefty nonfiction reading for the engaging summer novel, by coming home a little earlier from work and enjoying the coolness of long, light-filled evenings.

Some of us even stop watching the news on TV -- a piece of summer relaxation that has the potential to raise one's joyfulness index by several points.

Remember back to the election of 2008? It seems so long ago now. Many of us were drawn to candidate Obama that summer and fall because he spoke about a kinder, gentler political dialogue -- a way to bridge our differences and generate bipartisan solutions to our most serious problems.

For me it is a stretch to recall how frustrated I was by the uber-partisan politics of George W. Bush. Here we are but two years later right back in the same corrosive dialogue. Whatever happened?

From the perspective of this former Republican, much of the blame falls on national Republican leadership. From the beginning of the Obama presidency, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Rep. John Boehner and company made the political calculus that it would be better tactics to simply oppose the president on all issues -- save perhaps the war in Afghanistan.

The president certainly tried to bring Republicans on board for the three major initiatives that have defined his presidency: the federal stimulus bill, the health care reform bill, and, most recently, the financial reform bill. Each of these pieces of legislation was landmark in scope, yet fewer than a handful of Republicans voted for them.

I believe there is a strong case to be made for each of these pieces of legislation. Each addressed an element of national crisis -- the time when we should be putting partisanship aside to do the nation's work. The president was willing with each of these bills to entertain significant Republican input. Instead he got obstructionism.

I frankly don't understand why there is not more backlash against Republican leadership for backing away from addressing real national crises. Instead, it appears the Republican tactic is actually working.

Republican claims of activist Big Government running amok have led to lower presidential approval ratings and the prospect of significant Democratic losses in the upcoming mid-term elections.

Are we so easily misled? The answer seems to be yes. But perhaps there is hope in the soothing rhythms of summer.

Please, Sen. McConnell and Rep. Boehner, take a nice summer vacation. You might even think of coming to Maine.

Perhaps we could persuade former President George H.W. Bush to host a bipartisan lobster bake for you and invite a few Democratic leaders as well.

Now, there is an idea that could go a long way toward "fixing" what ails the national political dialogue. Such is the power of summer in Maine.