The President Obama we voted for

I'll let a smart friend explain why Obama beat the GOP and won back his base, at least for a glorious day

Published January 30, 2010 3:30AM (EST)

Like a lot of people I had to work Friday -- as in, do my job as editor here at Salon and not just watch television. But I kept my eye on President Obama's engagement with the House GOP at its annual retreat as best I could.

I am just going to assume my inability to even mentally rebut those Republican doubters as well as Obama did was because I was preoccupied with other work. I know I'm lying about that, but it's late on Friday, so please forgive me. My brain is still seared by the way I saw him respect, rebut and sometimes rebuke the GOP today. On facts as well as on points.

I wasn't optimistic about Obama's plans to attend the House GOP gathering. I thought it might be more of his wrongheaded bipartisanship. I didn't raise a ruckus; it was his Friday to spend the way he wanted to. I just didn't expect much.

But like a lot of people in both parties -- especially the House GOP aides who set it up and let the TV cameras roll -- I was honstly blown away by Obama's performance. Like a lot of Democrats, I was very happy to see him engage and question and answer -- and at times kick some ill-informed and obstreperous GOP ass. I tried not to ask where this fighting man had been for these last months; he was clearly that president we voted for and I thought better late than never.

Mike Madden captured it all in (near) real time here. My friend Melissa Harris-Lacewell rewound the film for us, back to her Chicago days with Obama the law professor, to remind us how he and why he pulled today's feat off, here.  She, and I, didn't expect someone who fulfilled all of our progressive political dreams when we voted for him in 2008. But we did expect him to tangle with -- and defeat -- his antagonists, politically, rhetorically, intellectually, sometimes morally, far more often than he has this year. So today was a relief and a revelation for a lot of us.

I am looking forward to seeing a whole lot more of this president in the coming months. Everyone who wants bipartisanship should be calling for monthly sessions like this. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Republicans aren't. GOP Rep. Mike Pence told Hardball's Chris Matthews, shortly after his draining session with the president, that he's not anxious for a rerun.

I'd like to see monthly prime-time Q&As with the president and Congress: with Senate Republicans, as well as with Congressional progressives. Imagine Obama going head to head with public option proponents the way he did with the GOP today. I'd be rooting for his antagonists on that one, but it would be great political theater.

I don't expect Republicans to clamor for more of the drubbing they got today, but Democrats should push for that kind of engagement. I'd sacrifice prime time presidential speeches and press conferences for the give and take of regular Obama/Congress sessions. Any engaged American would. Why wouldn't the GOP?

By Joan Walsh

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