Well, not really. But one thing the administration must realize by now is that no matter what they do, they’ll get no credit for their efforts to appeal to Republicans, so long as the revanchist right that sits in Congress is uninterested in their entreaties. So why bother anymore?
The way history is so quickly being rewritten by the leading lights of the conventional-wisdom-mongering that goes by the name “political journalism” is enough to make your head spin. Criticizing Obama for not “changing the tone,” Time magazine’s Mark Halperin writes, “Once the new President cast his lot with his party in passing an economic-stimulus measure rather than seeking bipartisan agreement, rival Republicans started digging in.” Yes indeed – if only Obama hadn’t tried to prop up the sinking economy with the stimulus, Republicans would never have “started digging in.” They were all ready to be his partners! Never mind that the stimulus included a couple of hundred billion dollars in tax cuts, inserted in no small part in an attempt to win GOP support.
It reminded me of a column David Broder wrote week before last. Apparently dictating his words from the bottom of a well where he had been trapped for the last eight months, Broder lamented how Republicans willing to work with Democrats on health-care reform “were turned away by the White House and the Senate Democratic leaders, who never lifted their sights much beyond the Democratic ranks.”
Um, what? Remember the Finance Committee’s “Gang of Six,” whose Republican members would spend all day “negotiating” with their Finance Committee colleagues, then go out and trash reform? Remember how Chuck Grassley, that committee’s ranking Republican, told constituents they had "every right to fear” that reform would “pull the plug on grandma”? Remember all the time Senate Democrats, and the White House itself, spent courting Olympia Snowe? Remember how every one of her demands was met, and she still voted to filibuster reform? And yet Broder can actually write, in all seriousness, that “it would help a lot if [Obama] reached out personally to those few Republicans who might still want to improve the bill rather than sink it.” Let us know when you find those unicorn Republicans, Dave. The truth is that the only way Obama could have won Republican support for health-care reform would have been to essentially scrap it.
Not that Obama will stop trying to reach out. Even if it’s purely strategic – that he just wants to be seen as the one who’s being magnanimous, even if he knows that Republicans will never respond. Still, that’s who he is, and who he always has been. It may have been naïve to think he could “change the tone,” so long as today’s GOP has anything to say about it.
In the end, though, bipartisanship is sometimes just partisanship plus time. After all, the battle over Medicare was pretty partisan. But now both parties are committed to its socialized medicine, or at least claim to be. And while Washington pundits care a lot about process – and have demonstrated that they won’t give Obama credit for reaching out, no matter how hard he tries – the public cares about results.