This post originally appeared at Open Left.
Is Obama’s insistence on bipartisanship killing his presidency?
I submit that health care reform could fail and take the Obama Presidency with it, and that this may well be the result of attempting to appease Republicans who want only to destroy him.
Let’s look at the record. When Obama took office the country urgently needed sufficient stimulus to make up for the slack in demand from consumers and businesses. But before even offering his plan Obama weakened it because he believed this would bring in Republican votes. And then while the plan was going through Congress more and more actual stimulus was removed. Then the stimulus didn’t get a single Republican vote in the House, and only a couple in the Senate. In the name of bipartisanship Obama gave up a good plan in exchange for nothing. Now the economy is beginning to suffer the consequences.
Meanwhile the Republicans who Obama gave up so much to bring on board are working to destroy his administration with propaganda and lies about how the plan is failing, how the plan is part of a socialist conspiracy to ruin the country, etc.
With health care Obama is again repeatedly offering up compromise in the name of bipartisanship while the Republicans are again working to destroy him and health care reform. If he was giving things up in exchange for the promise of votes that is one thing, but there will be no Republican votes. This is the big game now, and the Republicans have correctly stated that a failure of health care means the failure of this presidency. So they are doing everything they can to kill health care reform. They are telling every lie they can find, using every scare tactic in the book, calling him every name, and encouraging the worst in every nutcase out there.
Bipartisan must be a two-way street. The assumption of bipartisanship on the part of the other side is a mistake when the other side has no intention of reciprocating. It misjudges the changes that have occurred in the Republican party.
This political call for bipartisanship in understandable and politically astute. The country longs for a return to the days when the parties could argue their positions with Senatorial camaraderie and reach compromises that incorporated the best ideas from both sides. Politicians are smart to recognize this longing and appeal to it. But they are not smart to extend that wish into a belief that today’s Republicans are willing to play along.
We have seen this before. At the 2006 YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas a few bloggers were invited to a roundtable with Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who was contemplating a run for President. With the “mainstream” press watching from the sidelines as if this was a football game, Marcy Wheeler and Natasha Chart tried to pin down Warner on his insistence that Iran was a problem while Pakistan was not. (It turned out that Warner hadn’t thought that much about Pakistan.)
Then we asked about his instinct for bipartisanship. “Hunter” from DailyKos asked Warner, “You said that in Virginia you got a lot done working across the aisle. Do you think that is possible on a national level now?” Warner answered that you can’t “ram through transformational change in a 51-49 way, I don’t think it ‘s going to get done. I may be naive on this, but I think there are still enough people of goodwill in the country and even in Congress. You have to reach out and grab them.”
I then pointed out that in 1993 as a party strategy the Republicans had decided to block Clinton’s health care plan, even before any plan was decided on. Then I asked, “I think part of what Hunter’s asking is, what if they don’t? What if, just like with Clinton’s plan they decide they’re just going to block whatever you do?”
Warner answered, “If you don’t think there are enough people of goodwill willing to step up and do the right thing regardless of party, then I’m truly worried for the country.”
I replied, “So are we. That’s why we’re here. The question is, what if they don’t? What’s plan B?”
Warner didn’t have a plan B. He was going to just get bipartisanship because he was a nice guy who was willing to work with the other side. This appears to be Obama’s position as well.
This is recorded in Matt Bai’s book, The Argument, pages 248-249. In the book, Bai faults the bloggers for their attitude against working with Republicans, saying that we are uncompromising. I love Matt, but he gets it fundamentally wrong here. I, and I think most bloggers, long for a Republican party that can be worked with again, because the extremists that have taken over are harming the country and the world.
But when the other side is trying to destroy you, you just have to take that into account. You don’t give in, and then give in more, and then give in more, thinking they will change. Why should they when you just keep giving them what they want? We’re certainly learning that in California. Obama needs to learn that as well, before there is nothing left to give them.
That’s what they are waiting for, and that’s when they will make their move.
Here is my suggestion. The next time a Republican circulates anything like the picture of Obama dressed with a bone in his nose, and claims that he is trying to make us all live under socialism, Obama should say, “That’s enough” and “ram through” a health care plan that works for the people. It will save his presidency.