At dueling press conferences Tuesday, the speaker of the House and the president of the United States said a lot of similar things. Both said they were open to negotiation. Both blamed the other side for the current shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis. Both agreed that the debt ceiling should be raised. The key distinction was this: John Boehner was the one who made the point that the debt ceiling is fair game to use in negotiations, and President Obama was the one who said the debt ceiling has been taken hostage.
And in both press conferences, the speaker and the president characterized the other’s position in a similar manner.
Boehner said of Obama: “So the president’s position that, listen, we’re not going to sit down and talk to you until you surrender is just not sustainable. It’s not our system of government.”
The president said of the Republicans:
I mean, think about it, the only reason that the Republicans have held out on negotiations up until last week or so, is because they thought it was a big enough deal they would force unilateral concessions out of Democrats and out of me. They said so. They basically said, you know what, the president is so responsible that if we just hold our breath and say we’re going to threaten default, then he’ll give us what we want and we won’t have to give anything in return. Again, that’s not my account of the situation.
Though they said it in different ways, each was accusing the other of waiting for a surrender moment. Yes, we can discuss the equivalence of each party’s point of view. But, rhetorically, this is the definition of a stalemate.