Obama and Republicans playing nicely for now

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky holds a news conference on the day after the GOP gained enough seats to control the Senate in next year's Congress and make McConnell majority leader, in Louisville, Kentucky 5 November 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption Mitch McConnell has said the two-party system did not mean "we have to be in perpetual conflict"

If you are a parent and you have two kids who are squabbling badly you have the sanction of sending them to their rooms.

If you were to be a bit more Dickensian about it, you could flog them and tell them they are going to bed without any dinner.

But what do you do when two of the people who are not playing nicely are the president of the United States and the other is the most powerful Republican in the land?

Before we get into that, let's try to take them at their word that they are going to turn over a new leaf.

I know, I know - they've said it before: they will be on their best behaviour as if Granny were coming to stay, they won't wind the other up.

Then the moment your back is turned, they're fighting like demented polecats and blaming the other for starting it.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Despite kind words, it is likely Barack Obama will have to use his veto power more often

But Barack Obama has said he's prepared to sit down and drink bourbon with Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, and is even prepared to allow the leader of the House, John Boehner, to let him win at golf again.

So let's give them one more chance, and examine how it might work. First the words - they're good. Well, some of them are.

Let's review a little of what Mitch McConnell had to say as the new majority leader of the Senate.

"We do have an obligation to work together on the issues where we can agree," he told a news conference in his home state of Kentucky.

"Just because we have a two-party system doesn't mean we have to be in perpetual conflict... We're going to pass legislation. Some of it he may not like, but this gridlock and dysfunction can be ended."

And from the president, the same cautiously optimistic words, as he acknowledged the Republicans had had a good night.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A decision on the Keystone XL pipeline has been delayed several times

"I'm eager to work with the new Congress to make the next two years as productive as possible. I am committed to making sure that I measure ideas not by whether they are from Democrats or Republicans but whether they work for the American people," Mr Obama said.

"And that's not to say that we won't disagree over some issues that we're passionate about. We will. Congress will pass some bills I cannot sign. I'm pretty sure I'll take some actions that some in Congress will not like.

"That's natural. That's how our democracy works. But we can surely find ways to work together on issues where there's broad agreement among the American people."

So that's all OK then. Well not quite. There are profound ideological differences, and you don't have to scratch the surface very hard to find the fissures that lie beneath.

Let's just take one big example - immigration reform. Mr Obama has been frustrated beyond belief that he has been unable to make progress on this. So yesterday, after the conciliatory words, he said he could act unilaterally if necessary.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption John Boehner has warned Mr Obama from taking executive action on immigration

By issuing an executive order, the president can simply bypass Congress - and at a stroke give the opportunity to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country.

Mr McConnell said this would be "poisoning the well... it's like waving a red flag in front of a bull." (Why use one metaphor when two will do?)

So already within minutes of peace breaking out, you have skirmishing. John Boehner chose a different metaphor - he said if the president continues to act unilaterally, he will be like a child playing with matches and will burn himself.

And then just as the president wants to take action on immigration, the Republicans are equally passionate about reforming/unpicking the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Mr Boehner has just said it is hurting the economy. But if the Congress passed legislation to repeal it, it is a 100% certain bet that the president will flash his veto.

So on what other issues might we see progress?

Mr Obama has wavered over the Keystone XL pipeline that will run from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico for fear of offending environmental campaigners ahead of the mid-terms, even though business is desperate for the measure and it would create jobs.

The president could trade that for Republican support to back greater spending on infrastructure - roads, bridges and the like.

Corporate tax reform is firmly on the Republican agenda, but the president would not want to concede this without something back. Perhaps it would be movement on increasing the minimum wage, something that was backed in ballot initiatives in a number of Republican states on the night of the mid-term elections.

But you just have to listen to the two sides, and you can only come away with one conclusion: the antipathy and hostility far outweighs any sense of trust.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A nice round or golf or two won't solve the fundamental disagreements between Obama and Boehner

"This is not about politics, this is about doing what is right for the country," John Boehner said with absolute sincerity.

Barack Obama would, with equal sincerity and passion, say exactly the same. They just fundamentally disagree on what is right.

And no amount of bourbon or rounds of golf is going to sort that.

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