Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Now more than ever, bipartisanship is for suckers

Republicans want Obama to fail. He needs to stop seeking consensus, because it makes him look weak

By Joe Conason

NewsFrom the earliest moments of Barack Obama's presidency, the most perplexing question was how he would fulfill his promise to change Washington's partisan standoff – and whether that promise was ever more than a rhetorical and political campaign gambit. More than once, observers have suggested that he always knew he couldn't rely on Republicans to act in good faith, to negotiate reasonable compromises, or even to speak honestly in debate. According to that theory, Obama's commitment to bipartisan solutions was and is theater aimed at persuading independent or centrist voters to trust him.

But if seeking consensus is still his strategy, as he and his advisors insist, it may be time for a rethink. All the months of bipartisanship in talk and tactics from the White House have neither brought congressional Republicans closer to supporting Obama's objectives nor preserved Obama's early support among moderate voters. What they have done is encourage the most outrageous conduct by his opponents – including those who themselves claim the bipartisan mantle – and make the president look weak.

The simple truth is that there is nobody on the Republican side who wants to negotiate with Obama. They are no longer afraid of him, and they unanimously want to ruin his presidency, regardless of the consequences. They are in thrall to the stupid extremism that questions the president's citizenship and suspects that he is driving the country toward a socialist dictatorship – while simultaneously demanding angrily that the government be stopped from interfering with Medicare.

Whether there was ever any prospect of significant Republican support for Obama's recovery and reform agenda is a moot point. Certainly, the potential for obstruction and worse, in a party dominated by Rush Limbaugh and William Kristol, always outweighed the possibility of cooperation. Now, however, it should be clear to the president that even the supposedly reasonable Republicans scarcely pretend to want to work with him anymore. What the president must do is make that reality clear to the public.

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