President Barack Obama said the power of conservative opposition, including in the media, is blocking his agenda in an interview with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman late last week.
“What you’ve seen with our politics, partly because of gerrymandering, partly because of the Balkanization of media so people just watch what reinforces their deepest biases, partly because of big money in politics, is increasingly politicians are rewarded for taking the most extreme, maximalist positions,” Obama told the liberal Times columnist. “Sooner or later, that catches up with you. You end up not being able to move forward on things we need to move forward on. We need to reform our immigration system. That would be good not just for our domestic economy but for our position in the world. You travel around Latin America—nothing would more reinforce an admiration for the United States than us doing that. We need to rebuild our infrastructure. You go to the Singapore airport and then you come back to one of our airports and you say, huh? We’re not acting like a superpower.”
“It’s like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones,” Friedman agreed.
“Exactly,” Obama concurred. “We need to revamp our education system, K-12 in particular. You look at what Finland’s doing with its kids, and you look at what we’re doing with our kids, and you say, ‘we’re falling short.’ All these things are doable. Our fiscal position, actually, now is such—you know, the deficit’s been cut by more than half—where we’re in a position to make some smart investments that have huge payoffs, that historically have not been controversial, historically have garnered bipartisan support. But because of this maximalist ideological position, we’ve been blocked. I have to say here, I’ve been speaking in generalities, and trying not to be too political, but that ideological extremism and maximalist position is much more prominent right now in the Republican Party than the Democrats. Democrats have problems, but overall if you look at the Democratic consensus, it’s a pretty commonsense, mainstream consensus. It’s not a lot of wacky ideological nonsense, the way it is generally fact-based and reason-based. We’re not denying science, we’re not denying climate change, we’re not pretending that somehow having a whole bunch of uninsured people is the American way. We’re doing things that are pretty sensible. I’m optimistic that these things go in cycles, and that the Republican Party will eventually free itself from the grip of this kind of extremist ideology. But it’s necessary to happen soon.”