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Borger: Republicans snipe instead of offering solutions

  • Story Highlights
  • Borger: Republicans have opposed Obama's work on health care, economy, war
  • GOP arguments against president are way to avoid taking responsibility, she says
  • She says Republicans have gained politically from opposing president
  • But, she says, GOP will need substantive arguments to beat Obama in election
By Gloria Borger
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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Editor's note: Gloria Borger is a senior political analyst for CNN, appearing regularly on CNN's "The Situation Room," "Campbell Brown," "AC360°" and "State of the Union With John King," as well as during special event coverage.

Gloria Borger says Republicans complain about Obama as they look for ways to avoid responsibility.

Gloria Borger says Republicans complain about Obama as they look for ways to avoid responsibility.

(CNN) -- Every president believes, upon election, that his term of service will be transformative. Some, like Barack Obama, actually campaign on the idea: that his brand of leadership and force of personality are so persuasive that they will change the way the world (aka Washington) does business. "We are the hope for the future," the candidate told a crowd before his huge wins on Super Tuesday last year. "[We are] the answer to the cynics who tell us our house must stand divided."

How has that worked out for the new president?

No Republican votes in the House on the economic stimulus package; a handful in the Senate.

No real help in the House on health care reform; a single GOP vote, so far, in the Senate.

On Afghanistan, GOP applause when he sent more than 20,000 troops at the beginning of his term. Now, Republican predictions of outright catastrophe if the president doesn't send 40,000 more ASAP.

The math is a simple GOP political calculation: The economy? Obama owns it. Afghanistan? It's his war.

No new president ever seems to believe that the loyal opposition will totally shut down. After all, when Ronald Reagan came to Washington, even the liberal top Democrat Tip O'Neill allowed him the latitude to pass his tax cuts. (We'll give 'em enough rope ..." was the infamous O'Neill refrain.)

Sure, some GOPers complain that Obama let the liberals hijack his agenda -- and, in some instances, they're right. But mostly, their arguments have just been a rationale as they look for ways to leave no fingerprints. It's always easier to run to the hills and shout "no" from safe terrain.

Republicans have predictably gained some political traction with their "he's-a-big-spending-liberal" Obama narrative. And there's no doubt that House Democrats from moderate districts are increasingly at risk, given the burgeoning deficit.

Sill, Republicans haven't exactly been reborn, either. Consider this: A new Washington Post/ABC news poll Tuesday reports that only 20 percent of Americans now consider themselves Republicans -- the lowest number in 26 years. That's not exactly a national vote of confidence.

So now comes the tipping point. It's almost one year, and Obama's economic plan has been hatched. The result? While Wall Street and some banks are coming back, the jobs and home loans are not. It's trouble for the Democrats.

As for health care and Afghanistan, more trouble ahead. Assuming the president gets some kind of reform by Christmas, it won't be everything he wanted, but it will be more than enough fodder for Republicans to rip apart, piece by piece. For deficit hawks, it will inevitably cost too much. For seniors, there will be complaints it will raise Medicare costs. And on and on.

Afghanistan is another conundrum preoccupying the president. Send more troops, and liberal Democrats are horrified. Send fewer than 40,000 troops for at least $40 billion -- as requested by the generals -- and Republicans will tag Obama as a weak commander in chief. (Some of these are the same Republicans, by the way, who don't want to add a penny to the deficit.)

The problem set is enormous: How to set a broken economy on a path of growth while fixing high unemployment. How to fix a broken health care system with 46 million uninsured. How to fix a war in which it may already be too late to succeed.

Sad how the calculations work, though. The more complex the political problems, the more simple the opposition math: If it's tough, disappear.

That may work for now and the midterm elections. But when it's time to challenge Obama, there's more simple arithmetic to consider: It's hard to beat something with nothing.

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