Bipartisanship Isn’t So Easy, Obama Discovers – New York Times (2/14/09):
On the day before the big vote, President Obama took a freshman Republican member of Congress aboard Air Force One to visit Illinois. Before an audience in Representative Aaron Schock’s district, Mr. Obama praised him as “a very talented young man” and expressed “great confidence in him to do the right thing for the people of Peoria.”
But when Mr. Schock stood up on the House floor on Friday, less than 24 hours later, his view of the right thing for the people of Peoria was to vote against the most important initiative of Mr. Obama’s young presidency.
“They know that this bill is not stimulus,” Mr. Schock, 27, said of his constituents. “They know that this bill will not do anything to create long-term, sustained economic growth.”
Kudos to NYT writer Peter Baker for nailing this story in the first three paragraphs. This is the ball game, right here. There is no bargaining with Republicans, and saying nice things is simply counterproductive. No matter what Obama does, Republicans will stand in the way because it is in their DNA, and it is the only way they can return to power. I don’t know why it took this long for Team Obama to learn this lesson. I learned it when I was a kid. But even those who didn’t, should have learned it from the puppet-master of the modern Republican party:
Many wonder what it will take to restore social civility to Washington, to get Republicans and Democrats mingling again. Rock-ribbed Republican Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, proffered a solution, telling us that Democrats must accept the finality of their powerlessness. “Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they’ve been fixed, then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don’t go around peeing on the furniture and such.”
It’s not pleasant to think of your opposition thinking of you like that. But power politics ain’t pleasant. Hopefully Team Obama will now concentrate on doing what’s right rather than trying to make DC cocktail parties more friendly. They say they get it:
Their unrequited overtures to Republicans over the past several weeks taught Mr. Obama and his aides some hard lessons. Advisers concluded that they allowed the measure of bipartisanship to be defined as winning Republican votes rather than bringing civility to the debate, distracting attention from what have otherwise been major legislative victories. Although Mr. Obama vowed to keep reaching out to Republicans, advisers now believe the environment will probably not change in coming months.
Rather than forging broad consensus with Republicans, the Obama advisers said they would have to narrow their ambitions and look for discrete areas where they might build temporary coalitions based on regional interests rather than party, as on energy legislation. They said they would also turn to Republican governors for support — a tactic that showed promise during the debate over the economic package — even if they found few Republican allies in Washington.
One of the things I have been asking for four years is this:
In listening to Obama and his surrogates, I still haven’t been enlightened as to whether this is supposed to mean “micro-compromise” where we go issue-by-issue and mathematically average Republican and Democratic positions, or “macro-compromise” where Democrats surrender on abortion and gay rights and get their way on alternative energy and troop withdrawal from Iraq.
So it appears we’re going from one kind of compromise to another. This won’t work either – regional Republicans and Republican governors want to move up in the barnyard after all – but at least there is a finite number of ways Team Obama can get their teeth kicked in.
I do however know one thing for certain: those of you who keep pushing this idea that Joe Cool Obama has it all figured out need to come up with a new unified theory for your personality cult. The twin bedrocks of his campaign since he gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention have been bipartisanship and compromise. His whole brand is based on those ideas. We’re three weeks into his Presidency, and his advisors are admitting it doesn’t work, and they are doing it on the record.
The White House will be able to “pick off” individual Republicans on individual issues, Mr. Podesta predicted, but will not be able to change the calculation made by the opposition party to be in opposition.
“What would make it change?” Mr. Podesta asked, referring to the Republican determination to challenge Mr. Obama. “If you’re going to do this at the moment of greatest need, at the height of his popularity, what sort of thing would get you to change?”
So please, the next time you want to lecture me about the game of three dimensional chess Obama is running on his opponents, the one that’s so secret and subtle that I can’t even see it, take a look down and note that you drove the bus straight off the cliff.
Update 10:00pm PST:
If you won’t listen to me, how about a PhD?
The major lesson learned is that the Democrats have just succeeded in taking a mandate, a landslide presidential election, and a super-majority in the House and Senate and handed over all power to a legislative tribunal consisting of three moderate Republicans in the Senate (and perhaps Joe Lieberman, whose face was prominently displayed on television over the last couple of days), who are now in a power-sharing arrangement with the President of the United States and the majorities of both houses of Congress. They are now in the position to scuttle, alter, or place limits on any legislation the Obama administration proposes, and to funnel the goals of the residual conservative Republicans who remain in the House and Senate into any legislation by saying, “Sorry we won’t vote for this if you don’t do x, y, and z,” which will generally be the policies that brought us into the crisis we’re in. Instead of Senators Collins, Snowe, and Specter being where they were two weeks ago, on the ropes, having to worry every day about their re-election in their states, which voted for President Obama and the change he promised, they are now in the position to tell the President what he can and can’t do over the next four years, and the White House has just assured their re-election by giving them so much positive press, power, and air time. When Republicans held less than 60 seats in the Senate and wanted to push through legislation, right-wing judges, etc., we never heard about how they lacked the 60 seats to pass whatever they wanted.
They played hardball, telling Democrats that if they dared to even consider a filibuster they would use the “nuclear option,” and Democrats curled up in the fetal position and waited until the Republicans had so badly damaged the country that the American people simply couldn’t vote for them anymore, and said, “We want the other guys.” Well, the other guys are in now, and they seem to have convinced themselves that they have neither the power nor the mandate to do the people’s business the way the people asked them to do. For those Americans who thought they might see things like comprehensive health care reform come out of this Congress and this Presidency, good luck. Unless the Democrats dramatically change course or the new President puts his foot down and reminds the American people who they voted for, any new legislation will have to pass muster with co-presidents Collins, Specter, and Snowe, and their shadow cabinet of Cornyn, Boehner, Shelby, and McConnell. The new co-presidents will not be able to do the kind of damage their party did over the last eight years, but they will be able to prevent the Democrats from fixing it—and to allow the radical conservatives to say “I told you so” in two years and take back large swaths of the House and Senate. If somehow this stimulus package succeeds, they will be able to claim that it was their changes, their tax cuts, and their “fiscal restraint” that worked.
Update 8:30am PST:
If you don’t ground politics in ideas, it’s nothing more than show business (or religion.) And while the Republicans are great showmen, they very definitely ground their politics in ideology. They sell it with emotion, to be sure, and it’s completely incoherent when you scratch beneath the surface, but it’s there. It’s what they call “principle” and it brainwashes people to sell out their own self-interest without knowing they are doing it. (I don’t know how many dittoheads are out of work, without health care, or losing their homes, but I would imagine there a more than a few who hysterically called their representatives in high dudgeon over something that could help them personally.)
Anyway, there is a consequence to refusing to fight campaigns on ideology and present those ideas as a cogent set of political principles. Right now, the Democrats are basically assuming that people are hurting enough to find the Republicans reprehensible for trying to obstruct the help they need. That’s a pretty risky strategy.
Thank you Digby.