Tuesday, January 27, 2009From the beginning, liberals have debated Obama's post-partisan rhetoric. For some, it betrays a disturbing naivete that will lead to political disaster at the hands of more ruthless Republicans and their patsies in the national press. For others, Obama's rhetoric is a shrewd strategy aimed at trapping the Republicans between supporting his program or being attacked as obstructionists in a time of national crisis. There is plenty of evidence for either perception, and I have suspended judgment on the matter. I believe we are going to find out the answer quite soon, though, and with it an important reading on whether the Obama administration will be a success or a failure.
I do not believe that the Republicans in Congress have any interest in working with Obama. Yes, it is a national crisis. Yes, Obama is popular. But passing strong legislation that will improve the economy is simply not in the interests of the minority. If the economy recovers, Obama will get the credit and the Democrats will perform well in the 2010 election. If the stimulus package passes and the economy doesn't recover, Obama might still get the credit for taking bold action in times of crisis. So if you're a Republican, what you don't want is for the stimulus to pass, and if it passes anyway and is a failure, you don't want to blur political responsibility. In addition, the Republican caucus is far more conservative than it was last year - there just aren't that many moderates and political vulnerable members in swing districts left. The party really is a right-wing rump at this point.
So no matter what he thinks, Obama isn't likely to get broad bipartisan support for his plans. I hope that Obama is intelligent enough to realize this, and is preparing the following political argument (perhaps during or after his state of the union speech):
"My fellow Americans, I strongly believe in the value of bipartisanship. For too long we have been held prisoner by those who believe that narrow political advantage is more important than sound policy. I was elected on a platform of bipartisanship, and I was attempted govern in a cooperative way with the minority. I was asked to include more tax cuts in the stimulus package, and I did so. I was asked to remove funding for family planning, and I did so. I did so even at the costs of important priorities, all in the name of working with the minority. And after each demand was met with a new concession, I waited for the Republican leadership to support a bill so desperately needed to right our economy. I regret to say that I have waited in vain. After every demand was met, there was another, and another, and another. Every time I have asked the minority whether they were now prepared to support the recovery program, the only answer has been 'No. It's not enough. We want more.'
So from this moment I am done compromising. I am willing to sacrifice a great deal in the name of bipartisan government, but not the future of the country. I will not compromise with those who refuse to realize that they lost the last election, that their policies are responsible for the present crisis and have been decisively repudiated by the American people. I will not compromise with those who are only interested in pressing a failed ideology out of political calculation. Enough is enough."
If Obama does that, I think he has the capacity to rally the country to him, and to isolate obstreperous Republicans. He can then safely run over them, and I suspect a few people like Arlen Specter and Olympia Snowe will flip to support. If he doesn't do that, if he compromises awa the heart of his program, he will ask for and receive the fate of Bill Clinton and the Democrats in 1994, because if anything, the Republicans in Congress are more conservative and obstructionist than they were 15 years ago. They can't be bargained with. They can only be crushed.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:42 AM