Thursday, February 05, 2009He had to have known better.
Barack Obama ran on a platform of bipartisanship and progressive change. It was inevitable that a tension would emerge between these two aims - to turn down the temperature of politics, and to bring an end to the Reagan era so that we could finally address long-deferred problems and present crises. The difficulty is that bipartisan requires two partners, and the Republican Party, whose love for Reagan flirts with idolatry, would never accept the end of the conservative ascendancy. Conservativism has swalled the Republican Party and has become its raison d'etre. How could anyone imagine that they would simply surrender?
I had hoped that Obama wasn't naive enough to believe that the Republicans would cooperate, that they would accept the results of the last two elections. Give them an opportunity to participate in a constructive way? Why not? But to have any real hope that an embittered minority would give up its legacy? Never. The conservatives that run the Republicans are irreconcilables. Even if they weren't, the failure of Obama's Presidency is very much in their political interest in the 2010 elections. I'm sure Mitch McConnell and John Boehner go to bed and dream of a reprise of 1994, when pure obstructionism of Clinton's agenda gave the Republicans the Congress.
Obama has made the additional error of playing and "inside game." He's worked behind the scenes in Washington, bartering with this member and that. This is now how great change is accomplished. Obama should have surrounded himself with all 50 governors as he announced the plan to rescue America's economy. He should have barnstormed the nation. Democratic congressmen and other surrogates should have blanketed the airwaves. He should have used the momentum of his victory to its fullest. He should have made preparations to pass the law under reconciliation rules (vitiating the posibility of a filibuster) and told the Republicans to work with him or be excluded entirely. Perhaps then, in the face of overwhelming popular support, the Republicans might have knuckled under and stopped playing games, although I doubt it.
Instead, immured in Washington, he has compromised away piece after piece, even before negotiations began. He has watched the public debate become how much spending to cut out of bill whose entire purpose is to spend money. The Republicans have seen his bipartisan gestures as signs of weakness, and acted accordingly. Now it seems Obama has begun to learned lesson he should have learned from his time in the Senate, the lesson every Democratic President has to learn sooner or later: the only language Republicans understand is the language of power. That, after all, is what modern conservatism is all about.