Obama's Tough Choice: Bipartisanship or Effectiveness?

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Via Politico (Hat Tip: Daily Kos), it appears that the Obama administration has learned at least one valuable lesson from the recent fight over the Stimulus package:

“White House aides say they have concluded that Obama too frequently lost control of the debate and his own image during the stimulus battle. By this reckoning, the story became too much about failed efforts at bipartisanship and Washington deal-making, and not enough about the president’s public salesmanship.

For Obama’s next act, the program is the same as he has been planning for months: New Deal-style plans to rescue struggling homeowners and rewrite regulations on the financial markets, plus a budget proposal that lays the groundwork for sweeping health care reform.

But the strategy to promote these items is getting an emergency overhaul. Obama plans to travel more and campaign more in an effort to pressure lawmakers with public support, rather than worrying about whether he can win over Republican votes in Congress. Officials suggested that the new, more partisan tone Obama embraced last week in his speech before House Democrats at their retreat and continued at his news conference Monday was what he should have been doing all along” (my emphasis).

This is more or less what I advocated a couple of weeks ago. We are in political territory where bi-partisanship, if it ever meant anything, is an empty, counter-productive slogan now. One entire political party has disqualified itself from serious discussion about the nation’s serious problems.

As the conservative apostate Andrew Sullivan wrote on Friday:

“Here’s why they are not being intellectually honest…The GOP has passed what amounts to a spending and tax-cutting and borrowing stimulus package every year since George W. Bush came to office. They have added tens of trillions to future liabilities and they turned a surplus into a trillion dollar deficit – all in a time of growth. They then pick the one moment when demand is collapsing in an alarming spiral to argue that fiscal conservatism is non-negotiable. I mean: seriously.

The bad faith and refusal to be accountable for their own conduct for the last eight years is simply inescapable. There is no reason for the GOP to have done what they have done for the last eight years and to say what they are saying now except pure, cynical partisanship, and a desire to wound and damage the new presidency. The rest is transparent cant.”

This would all be painfully obvious were it not for the fact that much of the mainstream media has been trying so hard to turn the idea of bi-partisanship into the most important problem facing the United States and insisting, in their inimitable way, that bi-partisanship really means that Obama and the Democrats should always bend over backwards to accommodate the Republicans:

“Just look at the stimulus debate in the House. The Democrats included billions of dollars’ worth of tax cuts in an effort to appeal to Republicans, and they dropped provisions the Republicans objected to, like funding for contraceptives. The Republicans, on the other hand, offered an alternative that consisted of nothing — absolutely nothing — other than tax cuts. And keep in mind that government spending on things like unemployment benefits and food stamps is far more stimulative than tax cuts, according to economist and McCain campaign adviser Mark Zandi, among others.

Now, given all that, you might assume that when House Republicans responded to Democratic concessions by unanimously opposing a stimulus bill containing a mix of tax cuts and spending, voting instead for one that contained only tax cuts and would provide less of a boost to the economy, they would be portrayed by the media as intransigent partisans.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, Obama and the Democrats were portrayed as insufficiently bipartisan. Time‘s Mark Halperin, for example, blasted Obama for failing to “go for centrist compromises” and compared him to George W. Bush.”

The good news is that the unwashed masses, aka, the American people, aren’t buying it: overwhelming majorities support Obama and hold Republicans in Congress in deep contempt; solid majorities support the stimulus package. Obama would do well to take full advantage of these facts by arguing clearly and aggressively for the benefits to the American people and the country’s well-being of an ambitious agenda. As I and many others have said before, the Republican Party understands clearly that successful government efforts to help dig the country out of its economic difficulties is a political catastrophe for them. Given these realities, Obama is better off making his case around the country, rather than staying in Washington and trying to play footsy with an opposition only interested in kicking him in the shins.


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