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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Time to Abandon Bi-Partisanship: Time to say No to the Part of No!!

Kutter thinks that Obama has learned an important lesson when it comes to the Republicans: time to forget bi-partisanship. It is obvious that the Republicans are the "party of no." This an excellent analysis on Obama's development as President. Obama's style is reconcile differences in a non-ideological fashion. It seems as though the lesson to abandon "reaching out" to Republicans is a failed strategy and Obama's style the last few weeks in which he is taking on the Republicans is a reflection of lessons learned. Check out Kutter. RGN

The End of an Illusion

Robert Kuttner
Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The American
March 14, 2010 10:30 PM

Are we at a turning point in the Obama presidency? It
took far too long, but the president has belatedly
grasped that when the other party is out to destroy you,
the search for common ground is a fool's errand.

For over a year, Obama believed that reform required him
to govern as a post-ideological bipartisan. Now,
mercifully, he has learned that progressive leadership
demands taking on the Republicans, just as it requires
taking on the insurance and banking industries. There is
little common ground on those fronts either.

Since early March, Obama has begun to sound more like
the bold figure who won the hearts of voters during the
campaign. The showdown is expected late next week.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi seldom schedules a vote without
having a majority in her pocket. With all the bill's
deficiencies, winning its passage would be a triumph,
not just for expansion of health coverage, but for
Obama's capacity to learn and grow in office and defeat
Republican obstruction.

Should he succeed, there will be little public sympathy
for Republican caviling about the use of the
reconciliation progress to, well, reconcile differences
between the House and Senate bills. Technical
parliamentary complaints will seem more like the
bleating of sore losers. Obama can seize the high ground
of majority rule.

And thanks to the sheer extremism of episodes like Sen.
Jim Bunning's attempted blockage of unemployment
insurance, Liz Cheney's association of lawyers honoring
the constitutional right to legal counsel with treason;
and the refusal of Congressional Republicans to back
even token recovery spending, Obama is well positioned
to define a new political mainstream even as he becomes
a more effective partisan progressive.

This odyssey was not an easy journey, and it is far from
complete. Obama's belief in common ground runs very deep
in his being. It remains to be seen whether his
reluctant embrace of partisanship to win the health
reform battle marks a durable change in his governing
style, or a one-off. But a victory on this defining
issue, after months of defeatism, would surely taste
sweet and would very likely mark a shift in Obama's
conception of leadership.

I say all this despite serious misgivings about the
health plan itself. The compulsory mandate is a
fundamental flaw, as Obama himself recognized during the
campaign. There is a world of difference between true
social insurance and a mandate to purchase a private
product. The former reinforces the value of government
and of social solidarity; the latter signals a coercive
state in concert with private industry profits. The
proposed tax on decent insurance was a tone-deaf assault
on wage earners for whom good health coverage is a rare,
reliable island in a rising sea of economic insecurity.
The diversion of Medicare funds was a political gift to
Republicans. And the back-loading of benefits purely for
budgetary reasons made the bill a political piñata, with
the risks evident and the gains deferred.

All of these elements made the plan a harder sell with
legislators of Obama's own party -- but all can be
fixed. At the end of the day, even Congressional
Democrats who worried that voters might punish them for
supporting this measure grasped a more fundamental
political truth: winning beats losing. There will be
time to improve the bill, particularly now that
Democrats have given themselves permission to use
majority rule rather than defer to Republican

Obama's new stance also serves as a role model. Senate
Banking Chairman Chris Dodd's belated abandonment of a
futile bipartisan approach to financial reform provides
a bookend to the president's new partisan leadership on
health reform.

Obama has also just appointed three relative
progressives to the Federal Reserve, including Sarah
Bloom Raskin of Maryland, widely considered the best of
the state financial regulators. There is not a single
businessman or banker in the lot.

Including in the health package an overhaul of the
student loan program, long blocked in the senate, is
another welcome demonstration of presidential nerve. But
prevailing on this first round of health reform will be
just the first step on a long road back.

Though both Obama and the Republicans treated health
reform as the defining issue of his presidency, other
challenges loom far larger. Obama has to do better on
employment, mortgage relief, and financial reform. He
has to deliver more tangible help to people for whom
this recovery still feels like a depression.
Presidential leadership has been crowded out by the
grand distraction of health reform and by Obama's own
reluctance to think bigger and fight harder. In these
critical areas too, corporate and partisan adversaries
have blocked progress. For this to be a true turning
point, his new-found partisanship and bolder progressive
stance must extend to the larger enterprise of restoring

If Obama wins health reform, and goes on to fight harder
for a real recovery program, some future historian
(doubtless guided by extended interviews with Rahm
Emanuel) will report that this latest turn to aggressive
partisanship was all part of the grand design. Obama
would spend his first year seeking bipartisan consensus,
and then when it was clear to one and all that the
Republicans were hopeless obstructionists, he'd spring
the trap.

The reality was a lot messier. Obama's administration
was all over the place strategically, and only came to
presidential toughness belatedly and as a last resort.
But Obama's behavior during the past two weeks does
remind us why we saw great things in this man, and
better late than never.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and
a senior fellow at Demos. His forthcoming book is A
Presidency in Peril.

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