Alex Massie

Obama’s Idea of Bipartisanship

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Noam Scheiber addresses complaints that Obama is too conciliatory, too keen on the idea of bipartisanhip for bipartisanship's sake:

But complaints like this miss what’s been accomplished these last few weeks: Obama has completely defined the stimulus narrative on his own terms. To the average voter, Obama has been earnest and conciliatory while the Republicans have been cynical, self-serving, and puerile. Which, if the past is any guide, is precisely the moment he’ll start playing hardball.

I think this is true. Political junkies enjoy partisanship, not least because it permits one to divide the world neatly into Good Guys and Rotten Eggs, but much of the public, especially in times of strife, sees squabbling as selfishness and a continuation of politics as usual. In those circumstances it's hardly surprising that the public warms more to the fellow it a) elected and b) seems to be more interested in talking than grandstanding. That doesn't mean the GOP should roll over, but it does suggest they need to be a little smarter in how they oppose the new President. And they should remember that Obama's "new politics" is also really a means of co-opting opposition and bringing sceptics into an expanded house of liberalism. Nothing illegitimate with that, of course. As Noam says:

Republicans will protest that Obama and Congressional Democrats have trampled on the Senate compromise and unilaterally re-imposed their liberal priorities. They’ll sprinkle in a collection of shopworn clichés, like “behind closed doors,” and “dead of night.” But, in the end, it won’t matter. The media, having already proclaimed Obama the Beltway’s only bona fide bipartisan, is hardly going to rewrite the narrative at this late stage.  And no senator who voted for the bill in the first time around is going to want to explain why he or she suddenly became “anti-job.”

By yesterday evening, you could almost see it dawn on Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell that he’d been played. “This package, had it been developed in genuine consultation, could have had a different result,” McConnell bleated, following a Senate vote that paved the way for the conference committee to convene. “But at the end of the day, it was--the administration decided--let the package be developed in Congress by the majority.” Right, Mitch. Tell it to someone who cares.

Too true. The electorate is in a mood for government to do something and, to be honest, it doesn't much care what that something is so long as it seems big and bold and dramatic. Will it work? Well, that's another question entirely. Indeed, Joe Biden  - candid as ever - makes a Washington gaffe* by admitting that there's a 30% chance everything will go wrong. 

*That is, he inadvertently tells the truth. A truth, moreover, that everyone knows but none may dare admit.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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