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Changing The Tone (And Not The Skin Tone, Dammit)

By Jesse Taylor
Saturday, February 14, 2009 17:01 EDT
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imageIt seems to me that a popular Democratic president pushing through legislation after intensive good faith negotiations with the opposing party during which it is made absolutely clear they will not support the legislation in any form in which it is likely to be passed would, in fact, be a change in tone in Washington.

The entire problem with the bipartisan-worship crowd is that it views the act of agreement as more vital to governing than actual governing.

Whatever it will do for the economy, the legislation that passed Friday will clearly not do anything to create long-term, sustained bipartisan reconciliation. Not one Republican voted for Mr. Obama’s plan in the House and just three voted for it in the Senate as it headed to final passage on Friday night. The party-line schism, coupled with the withdrawal on Thursday of a Republican senator, Judd Gregg, as a nominee to Mr. Obama’s cabinet, made clear the futility so far of the president’s effort to move Washington toward post-partisanship.

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.

“Post-partisanship” is fundamentally incompatible with democracy; it’s like wanting a post-temperature refrigerator. The goal should be post-bipartisanship, wherein we’re mature enough to realize that in the adult world, the goal isn’t merely having everyone agree, but going forth with the best possible plan – and understanding those two things aren’t always compatible (and, in fact, rarely are). The fetish for believing that there’s some secret policy agenda that can make 95% of elected representatives happy and lead the nation down a glorious path without argument or avarice has always been bone-stupid, but the first step Obama needs to take after this stimulus bill is what’s detailed above – get what support he can in pursuit of a functional agenda, with the emphasis on the agenda rather than the support.

As Fauxbama said yesterday, there is absolutely no reason to trust the Republican Party right now – none. I think that it’s an assumption that’s safe to run with right now.

Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor is an attorney and blogger from the great state of Ohio. He founded Pandagon in July, 2002, and has also served on the campaign and in the administration of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. He focuses on politics, race, law and pop culture, as well as the odd personal digression when the mood strikes.
 
 
 
 
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