Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rahm Emanuel : We were too bipartisan

This is excellent news. From the Wall Street Journal:
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel conceded President Barack Obama and his team lost control of the message for selling their massive stimulus bill last week, fixating on bipartisanship while Republicans were savaging the legislation.


Mr. Emanuel owned up to one mistake: message. What he called the outside game slipped away from the White House last week, when the president and others stressed bipartisanship rather than job creation as they moved toward passing the measure. White House officials allowed an insatiable desire in Washington for bipartisanship to cloud the economic message a point coming clear in a study being conducted on what went wrong and what went right with the package, he said.

But, he said, Washington should have learned something about Mr. Obama as well, with the shift from bipartisan overtures to outright mockery of his opposition.

He has an open hand, Mr. Emanuel said. But he has a very firm handshake.

Could it be that Obama is inching towards becoming the partisan ass-kicker we progressives long for? The Republicans seem to be giving him every incentive to do so. The administration seems to have learned a lesson here. They could have spared themselves the trouble if they had listened to the left-wing blogosphere. But maybe it's better this way: people will see that he reached out, and that Republican's weren't interested in supporting him. That's fine. They disagree. So let's get on with the business of fixing this country without trying to appease them.


Blogger grishnash said...

I brought this up in your last "bipartisanship" post, and that's been my reasoning from the beginning. Yes, theoretically the administration could have come out with a "ram it down their throats" mentality that the Republicans used for their majority years and been three weeks further along with an agenda now. But, I can guarantee that would have generated a ton of Republican whining, and said whining would probably have drawn a fair amount of sympathy in 2010.

Now, it seems the Republicans have been very helpful to the administration by providing concrete proof that they simply aren't interested in working with the Obama administration, or the Democratic majorities in Congress in the slightest. There is now a demonstrated justification to completely ignore them from here on out. Claims that that was the case (no matter how obvious to the progressive blogosphere) just wouldn't have the same resonance with the public without the whole routine that's gone through so far.

You have to see Lucy yank the football away at least once to understand that Charlie Brown isn't crazy to be reluctant to try to kick it. If Charlie Brown had simply refused to kick the football from the beginning, Lucy might even be a sympathetic character: she's trying to help the team, and bad ol' Charlie Brown freaks out for no reason! But now that we've seen the ball get yanked 3 times (once would have been enough for me, really), there's no reason to continue the analogy by letting it get yanked another 500 times.

Overall, I think it's a good trade for the amount of time it's been allowed to go on, but I don't think it needs to go on any further. I'd be disappointed if the "bipartisan" route is taken much further than an occasional token outreach from here on out.

8:36 AM, February 14, 2009  
Blogger Marion said...

I think you guys know that I'm about as leftist as they come, but I have to disagree with the notions that Obama should become a "partisan ass-kicker" or that "there's no reason to continue... letting [the ball] get yanked."

First, a strong pillar of Obama's platform was about bipartisanship and breaking the old patterns of Washington politics. Letting that pillar fall after just a few knocks pretty much invalidates it as a political notion. It concedes victory to partisanship, and that's still a defeat for Obama -- even now, after he's won the election. It also would send the message that it was just a vote-mongering ploy, and render hollow anything Obama says or does. That would disillusion a large swath of electorate -- from folks like me who think any Democratic Party candidate is bound to be too centrist, to those nominal Republicans who decided to give Obama a chance.

In short, not stepping up to the ball would empower conservatives no less than their current partisanship empowers we progressives.

Second, we have to face facts here. No miracle is going to happen overnight that suddenly erases the conservative element from American society. We have to live with those who disagree with us, and we will for generations -- just as we have for generations already. If changing how we work with Republicans (and vice versa) is not impossible, it's a very long-term project. And one of the easiest ways to reinforce old patterns is to give up trying to change them. This takes years. It's like trying to befriend a feral cat: they're going to run away or scratch you many, many times before they'll eat out of your hand. Gentle persistence is the only way to overcome that.

I speak from experience here. I was chief Union Steward for 6-7 years at my workplace. When I started, there was lots of outright hostility between Management and the Union. I helped change that. I pulled in the leash of our great but tenacious business rep, helped her tone down the rhetoric without abandoning the fight. By the time I hung up my Steward hat, Management and Union were openly collaborating on issues; we were able to forge a partnership on a lot of things, much to the benefit of our membership. It took a long time and a lot of patience to get there, though.

That's not to say the Obama administration should come running up to the ball with the same enthusiasm each time. That the President "has an open hand... but... has a very firm handshake" is exactly the right message to convey, IMO, and will be for at least the whole of Obama's first term. And if the administration can uphold that same tempered firmness, and show consistently that the President is willing to listen and willing to pursue genuine partnerships with those who disagree with him, he'll be in fantastic shape come 2010.

6:14 PM, February 14, 2009  

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