Archive for Friday, February 20, 2009

Obama shouldn’t abandon bipartisanship

February 20, 2009


— As far as most of Washington is concerned, Barack Obama’s big talk about bipartisanship is kaput. One month into his presidency, many pundits and political analysts have told him to drop it. Get real, they say. It bought you next to nothing on the stimulus bill. Forget the compromising. Look for support where you may actually find it, on the Democratic side of the aisle.

In Tuesday’s Washington Post, my colleague Richard Cohen urged Obama to muzzle “all the gauzy talk about (banishing) partisanship ... the desire to think that political differences are manufactured and can be sweet-smiled into consensus is touching but unrealistic.”

In the same day’s New York Times, James Morone, a Brown University political scientist, said that all of American history shows bipartisanship to be a myth. “Kind words and good intentions cannot build a bridge between competing political philosophies,” he wrote.

Some consider Obama’s wooing of Republicans a rookie mistake, a measure of his naivete. Others focus on the Republicans and fault them for obduracy in denying Obama all but three of their votes on the stimulus bill. The critics agree that the effort at bipartisanship should end.

I hope Obama isn’t listening. It’s the worst advice he has received. It starts from a false premise: that the stimulus bill proves the failure of outreach to Republicans. In fact, had Obama not negotiated successfully with Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter and met most of their terms, his bill would have died. This was a success for bipartisanship, not a failure.

Morone’s history also is false. To prove that bipartisanship has never existed, he has to skip over Harry Truman’s success with a Republican Congress on the Marshall Plan, Lyndon Johnson’s forging the great civil rights acts with Everett Dirksen and Bill McCulloch, and Ronald Reagan’s steering his first budget and tax bill through a Democratic House.

But the real reason Obama should ignore this advice is that he will need Republican votes to pass the remaining parts of his program. When it comes to energy, regional and commodity interests will inevitably divide the Democrats. They always do. Oil, coal, natural gas and consumer groups will exert their will. If Obama writes off the Republicans in advance, he will end up with a watered-down bill — or nothing.

This is even more true when it comes to health care. We saw what happened when the Clintons rebuffed John Chafee and other potential Republican allies; without their help, the Clintons could not even bring a bill to the floor. It will be exquisitely difficult to negotiate changes in a system of vital importance to every family, considering that hospitals, doctors and other providers and insurers all have huge economic stakes. One of the few breaks Obama can count on is that Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Bob Bennett, R-Utah, have collected a growing number of Democrats and Republicans as co-sponsors of an innovative bill. Obama would be foolish to ignore them.

The same thing applies to immigration reform. Does anyone really think Obama would be well-advised to put that issue before Congress without having a long, serious conversation with his 2008 opponent, John McCain? Even if they reached complete agreement, passage would be a heavy lift. But at least it would have a chance.

And think ahead to entitlement reform. Democrats will never tackle Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and the taxes to finance them — unless, as former Wyoming Sen. Al Simpson used to say, significant numbers of Republicans agree to “link arms and go over the cliff together.”

I have not even mentioned issues such as trade, where Obama may be looking to Republicans to offset the protectionist impulses among his fellow Democrats.

Nor will Obama have an easier time coping with the manifold challenges of the world — Iraq, Iran, Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the rest — without bipartisan support. When he was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Obama had a close-up view of the productive partnership between Democrat Joe Biden, now the vice president, and Republican Dick Lugar, whichever one of them held the chairman’s gavel. Biden and Lugar can help Obama immeasurably.

To throw all this away out of frustration with what happened on the stimulus bill would be insane. If the political wise guys can’t see that, let’s hope the president can.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 4 months ago

The main reason he needs to attempt "bipartisanship" is so that the Republicans will hang themselves with their obstructionism, and Democrats can get the 60 votes they need in the Senate.

Chris Ogle 9 years, 4 months ago

Some consider Obama’s wooing of Republicans a rookie mistake, a measure of his naivete.

Perhaps we need more rookie mistakes. Cock fighting in DC didn't get us anywhere ....but broke.

Flap Doodle 9 years, 4 months ago

"...Unfortunately, the many promises broken already by Obama make it increasingly obvious that Barack Obama had no intention of living up to the high ideals he used to get elected. Republicans discovered that 'bipartisan' meant having liberal pork orgies shoved down their throats, with a complicit media blaming as 'obstructionist' anyone conscientious enough to point out that the 'stimulus' bill was useless for its intended purposes and in its main effect as toxic as the mortgages which launched the recession." Read the rest at:

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 4 months ago

"it's all their fault, the programs would have worked if only they had been properly funded."

Given that the fraud perpetrated by Wall Street and the banking and insurance industries has sucked at least $5 trillion out of the economy, this stimulus bill is probably the first and likely the smallest one.

Satirical 9 years, 4 months ago


Obama invited several Republicans over to watch sports. You can't get more bi-partisan than that! I mean, who cares whether Repuglican legislators were consulted in regards to legislation. As long as they are invited to the White House to watch something on the idiot box every now and then Obama is right to expect them to be a rubber stamp on all of his socialist policies. And if they don't crumble and praise Him for His omniscient wisdom they should be called exactly what they are, obstructionist to His divine plans.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 4 months ago

"And if they don't crumble and praise Him for His omniscient wisdom they should be called exactly what they are, obstructionist to His divine plans."

For all of you Republicans, "bipartisanship" is defined as Obama crumbling and praising Republicans for omniscient wisdom-- despite the fact that it was that "wisdom" that put us in the position we are in.

jaywalker 9 years, 4 months ago

Naysayers abound, particularly from those on the left who seem to revel in the Republicans being 'obdurant' -- standing by their principles offers ammo for haters. 'Course the inverse is true for the right. But Broder's article is excellent and correct. Obama's hope and vision for change HAS to include bringing politicians together in spite of politics. Bridging that gap is not a bridge to nowhere, it's vital to the future of this country. Opposition is one thing, but one party cannot heal all that ails us. It was a group effort to bring us down no matter how much the more meiopic of us wish to heap it all on Bush's back. It must be a group effort to get the train back on track.

Satirical 9 years, 4 months ago


"For all of you Republicans, “bipartisanship” is defined as Obama crumbling and praising Republicans for omniscient wisdom...."

Last time I checked, Republicans simply wanted to be consulted before such a ridiculously huge socialist package was rammed down their throats. Republicans realize anything more than that is gravy. But I guess by your twisted logic, any discussion with someone who doesn't parrot your opinions is bowing to their whims. Others see that as constructive compromise which helps all of America.

It appears partisan hatred leads you to think anyone with an (R) next to their name couldn't possibly have anything to contribute. Unfortunately it appears most of the liberals in government see things the same way you do.

jafs 9 years, 4 months ago


I completely agree.

I would just point out that Republicans seem to have developed a concern for deficit spending rather late in the game, and only after Obama was elected.

If they had been complaining about the large deficits during Reagan and Bush's administrations, I'd be more inclined to consider them "principled".

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 4 months ago

"Last time I checked, Republicans simply wanted to be consulted before such a ridiculously huge socialist package was rammed down their throats. Republicans realize anything more than that is gravy."

Umm, Republicans were consulted, and the stimulus bill was changed accordingly. It got just enough Republican votes to pass in the Senate, so most of the rest of the Republicans chose to make a political statement rather than vote for it, thus hedging their bets. If the economy improves, voters likely won't be inclined to punish incumbents, regardless of how they voted. If the economy continues to stall over the next couple of years (as big a mess as BushCo made, not an unlikely scenario) they'll try to hang the blame on Obama and the Democrats.

Pretty cynical, but entirely in character.

jaywalker 9 years, 4 months ago

jafs, you got me there. That's a damn good point. And it also provides more rationale for why Republicans need to find solid leadership, clean up their act, and get back to what their principles are supposed to embody. Damn straight.

Left_handed 9 years, 4 months ago

No, the rest of the Republicans chose to vote based on the merits of the bill, which were minimal. The mess that Obamaco will make here in the next three plus years will no doubt restore a Republican majority.

Satirical 9 years, 4 months ago

Bozo… “Republicans were consulted”

So when a handful of Republican Senators who have in the past sided with democrats are consulted, and no Republicans in Congress are consulted it is considered bi-partisan?

"In the Senate, Republicans were consulted, that's a very positive thing, but we were never invited to the negotiating table,'' said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). "When Republicans offered ideas, they were generally rejected. There were few exceptions.''

Flap Doodle 9 years, 4 months ago

Axelrod's puppet isn't doing too well, is he?

Satirical 9 years, 4 months ago


The (first) bailout was closer to an economic stimulus, which most Republicans voted against, but some voted for. This latest monstrosity is part economic stimulus (which the same Republicans who wanted to first one support), part spending spree which doesn’t relate to stimulating the economy, and part free-for-all pork (which most Republicans oppose). Increasing spending on all the favorite liberal pet projects and labeling it as a stimulus is fraud.

As far as Republicans not inviting Dems to the table when they controlled both houses is just flat out wrong. And even if it were true doesn’t justify Dems doing it now. (I thought they were the ones with principles. Odd how ethics just fly out the window when a party gains power).

What you call Republicans being “bitterly partisan” I call them standing up for their principles, such as lowering taxes and preventing wasteful spending. (At least that is what traditional conservatives believe in). Would you rather they just “shut their mouth” and be a rubber stamp to rampant over spending which will not stimulate the economy? I may not agree with liberals, but I would never suggest they should just shut up and do what they are told.

jaywalker 9 years, 4 months ago

"the idea that Republicans are taking a principled stand are a bit odd, considering the fact that they helped pass an enormous bailout bill while Bush was still in office."

I don't disagree with any of your post, logic, except the idea that the bailout of Wall Street was in some way 'unprincipled'. I think while the argument can be made that the curent bailout bill for the economy is either questionable or necessary, the bailout of Wall Street was unavoidable. And I don't believe it mattered who was in the White House at the time, the same scenario would have played out either way. Obama would have been forced to do the same thing.

Flap Doodle 9 years, 4 months ago

You can't abandon something you've not practiced.

jumpin_catfish 9 years, 4 months ago

Ok, one more time, it was never about bipartisanship. He's all about taking the country as far left as he can and the constitution be damned in the process.

jaywalker 9 years, 4 months ago

Republicans, unfortunately, cannot hypocritically invoke the 'wasteful spending' platform they had no problem high diving off of since 2000. Conservative Reps seemed to forget the tenets of their ideological manifesto over the last two administrations. I do believe that a number of them are attempting to resurrect such 'principles' now, but I completely understand the frustration and scorn displayed by the left when they call out the right for not practicing what they NOW preach. Working together must be a goal for the future, but elected officials must also represent THEIR constituency, represent their values. They can't simply bend over because they don't hold the majority. Obama's 'hope' and 'change' has to be an unyielding effort to bring the parties closer together. Division like we see on these boards needs to be minimized. And an excelllent start would be a group effort to eliminate all pork from legislative agendas. Citizens on both sides of the aisle would embrace such a move and it would go miles toward restoring respect and trust in our government.

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