On becoming bipartisan
Throughout the 2008 campaign season, then-Sen. Barack Obama repeatedly promised to bring a new political dynamic to Washington to end our recent tradition of inter-party squabbling and to promote a transparent and truly bipartisan government. Two weeks into his presidency, Obama indeed appears to be attempting to make good on his word. Since his inauguration, the president has made numerous efforts to accommodate the concerns of the Republican Party and to encourage a friendlier relationship between its members and those of his own party. This Sunday, Obama invited a bipartisan group of 15 legislators to the White House to watch the Super Bowl with him and his family. Reportedly, there was not much political discussion during the gathering, but it is just this sort of generally open, friendly and neighborly attitude that will allow for the establishment of the post-partisan spirit that Obama desires in Washington.
On Wednesday, in response to stark resistance among GOP House members to his economic recovery plan — many House Republicans claim that the bill commits too much money to spending and not enough to tax cuts, among other critiques — Obama invited House and Senate leaders of both Parties to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for cocktails in an attempt to foster good spirits between members. The day before, the president had gone to Capitol Hill to urge Congress to act "swiftly and boldly" to pass his recovery plan and, as reported last week in D.C.'s Congress-oriented newspaper The Hill, "Obama won praise from some of the House's most conservative lawmakers as ‘engaging' and ‘respectful' during his meeting with Congressional Republicans. Rep. Bob Inglis, R- S.C., said that Obama was sincere and ‘impressive' during his meeting with Republicans." Further, the Democratic leadership in Congress — at the behest of the House GOP — even agreed to remove a provision from the bill that would have allowed for "states to cover family planning services for low-income women without applying for a federal waiver," according to health policy expert Linda Bergthold. This is in spite of the fact that 86 percent of American voters support public funding of contraception for women without birth control, according to Media Matters for America. So in at least one case, Obama and his Party sought a compromise with Republicans, even though the vast majority of the nation favors provisions of the type originally proposed. I cannot imagine that our previous president would ever have taken such an action simply to earn the good will of Congressional Democrats. Perhaps not surprisingly, even after the language allocating funding for family planning services had been removed from the bill, not a single House Republican voted for it. Nevertheless, Obama's gesture signifies a genuine desire to involve his opposition in the formulation of new policies and gain their support for his already-popular proposals. According to recent Diageo-Hotline polls, 66 percent of Americans support the passage of the economic stimulus plan by Congress and 65 percent are confident that it "will be effective in turning around the economy." Now that it has been passed in the House of Representatives, the bill must now pass in the Senate; however, many Republican senators are committed to stopping the legislation as it currently stands and some are threatening to filibuster.
Obama himself is not the only one in his administration striving to establish a new bipartisan era. Rahm Emanuel, the President's chief of staff, hosted his own meeting last week with a group of moderate congressional Republicans to discuss the stimulus package. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., said, "[Such reaching across the aisle] hasn't been done as much in the most recent Bush administration." And yesterday, Obama nominated Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., for the post of secretary of commerce, a position for which the president had originally nominated Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who later withdrew his name from consideration after he came under federal investigation. Gregg said yesterday at a press conference with the president, "This is not a time for partisanship. This is not a time when we should stand in our ideological corners and shout at each other. This is a time to govern and govern well." It should be noted here that Gregg only agreed to accept the post after being assured by New Hampshire's Gov. John Lynch that his successor in the Senate would be a Republican. So here, again, we see what seems to be a genuine commitment on the part of Obama and his administration to do what is necessary to help the country at large, not merely to do what is necessary to help his own party accumulate political capital. To be sure, Obama's vision for a post-partisan era of national politics will not occur overnight. Nevertheless, the steps he and his staff have been taking thus far are certainly in the right direction. By encouraging, rather than stifling, opposing opinions, Obama not only stands to create a less hostile atmosphere in Washington, but also to demonstrate the soundness of his policy approaches in the face of opposition.
Josh Baker is a Rutgers College senior majoring in sociology. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column, "Zeitgeist," runs on alternate Wednesdays.