Rushing to judgment
I would like to take this opportunity to respond to a number of criticisms leveled against my column two weeks ago by my friend Alex Giannattasio in a letter to this publication. The letter's writer first takes issue with my previous assertion that Obama's attempts at bipartisanship "may ultimately prove fruitless — at least in the short term." To clarify, by this statement, I meant that such attempts may not necessarily help him in obtaining the support of many Republicans, at least during his crucially important first 100 days in office. The writer contends that, because President Barack Obama's stimulus bill passed through Congress somewhat quickly and was not met with a filibuster in the Senate, the administration's bipartisan efforts have been successful. I think we would agree that the president's persuasion of three Republican senators to vote for the bill appears to constitute some degree of success in reaching across the aisle, perhaps even preventing a filibuster. However, "appears" is the operative word here. It is prudent to note that all three of these senators are career long centrists. A Feb. 10 piece in The New York Times about Sen. Susan Collins, R.-Maine, and Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R.-Maine: "[the stimulus vote is] hardly the first time the two have broken from their party; it has occurred regularly over the years on budget, health, tax and environmental policy." If we also consider the fact that Collins and Snowe hail from a state in which Obama won fully 58 percent of the vote, we may see that their votes on this matter reflect the desires of their constituents along with their own independent attitudes. Much the same can be said of the third of these Republican "ayes," Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., who is among the most centrist members of Congress and also comes from a state which Obama won decisively. Considering these facts, we cannot definitively say that the personal efforts of Obama and his staff had any substantial effect on the results we saw in the Senate. On the other hand, if we look to what happened in the House, we may see a striking example of just how ineffective the administration's early attempts at bipartisanship have been. The very fact that Obama's plan went through the House of Representatives twice without earning a single Republican vote — despite the administration's numerous attempts to address GOP concerns with various amendments and revisions to the bill — proves that these attempts had virtually no positive impact whatsoever.
The writer also takes issue with my citation of a Gallup poll which found that 59 percent of those polled support the plan and only 33 percent oppose it, writing that I make my "second error in suggesting that because a slight majority of Americans are in support of the stimulus package, Republican opposition is somehow unwarranted," and, later, that "a poll…should not be taken as factual evidence of…anything." First of all, a 59-33 margin is not in any way "slight" — nearly twice as many Americans support the plan as oppose it. As for the notion that polls are not evidence of anything, how can I possibly respond? Of course they do not paint a perfect picture of what our citizens are thinking, but polls generally do a pretty good job and are, without a doubt, the best way to quickly and reliably find out public opinions on issues of interest. The contention that I would find any Republican opposition to be unwarranted is patently false. As I wrote two weeks ago, I know that some Republicans have "legitimate philosophical issues with the plan, [but] most Republicans appear to be voting against Obama purely for the sake of, well, voting against Obama." I stand by this statement, which has been further validated by the subsequent actions of some Republican representatives who opposed Obama. Many of them — 22 to be precise — have been touting the bill's benefits in their home districts. That is, these congressmen, in a series of actions, which can only be called staggeringly hypocritical, are taking credit for the aspects of the bill that will help their constituents after having voted against it twice.
The writer then contests my assertion that Rush Limbaugh has become the de facto leader of the GOP, citing Pat Robertson's "recent repudiation" of the talk show host. Robertson is not a Republican politician — as we will see, those GOP politicians who have repudiated Limbaugh have been severely censured. Of course, I did not mean to suggest that Limbaugh is officially leading the GOP, but no figure on the right currently has anywhere near the amount of clout he has. Consider this past weekend, after his keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele criticized Limbaugh's words as "incendiary" and "ugly." The following day, Limbaugh went after Steele, insinuating that he is more supportive of Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi then of his own party. Steele attempted to make amends on Monday: "My intent was not to go after Rush — I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh. I was maybe a little bit inarticulate . . . There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership…" Let's look at that last bit again: there was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or leadership. Steele knows that Limbaugh's opinions of him will make or break his future in the party, and if this is the case, Limbaugh is indeed the GOP's de facto leader, simply by virtue of the fact that no other figure on the right currently has as much influence as he does over the social/political climate in conservative America. Many other Republicans — e.g., Rep. John Barrasso, R.-Wyo. — are terrified to publicly contradict Limbaugh, further demonstrating the hold the talk show host has over the American conservative movement.
The writer disagrees with my claim that no Republican has voiced an alternative to Obamanomics, pointing to Congressman Ron Paul. Of course, Paul has been a longtime advocate of fiscal and tax policy reform, and ran primarily on these issues when seeking the presidency this past year. Many of Paul's ideas are quite respectable, and I agree with him on many matters — including the drastic limiting of the United States' global military presence. Paul's ideas, though, do not constitute a viable alternative to Obamanomics in the eyes of most Republicans, as they have been roundly rejected by most GOP members of Congress — or at least not embraced as realistic policy approaches. Because most in his party do not see eye to eye with Paul on these issues, the GOP thus is united by no real economic ideology, save its distaste for that of Obama, Pelosi and Reid. Ultimately, despite its imperfections, the Obama stimulus plan was necessary. I do not wish to sound trite, but, as many have said before me, inaction on the part of the administration would have yielded far worse results.
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.