USNews Column: Obama’s Post-Partisan Washington Failure all Republican’s Fault


By: Warner Todd Huston

Two March 19 editorials on Obama’s failure to create post-partisanship in D.C., both from lefties, can’t be farther apart from each other in their conclusions. Marc Dunkelman’s in U.S. News blames everyone but Obama for the failure to invent that mythic bipartisan Washington while Mort Kondracke’s Real Clear Politics piece lays the fault squarely at Obama’s door step.

But, the differences in the two are not just in conclusion but in the journey it took to get there. Sadly, the journey the Dunkelman piece took to get to its conclusion went through Obamamania, into the Obamagobsmacked tunnel, then it took The One turnpike, and ended up parked squarely in Obama’s southern port… if you know what I mean? In other words, it was based solely on a sycophantic love affair with the Obammessiah instead of on solid political analysis.

We’ll start with Kondracke’s piece headlined “‘Post-Partisanship’ Isn’t Dead Yet — but It’s Very Close.” Mr. Kondracke’s piece was very informative and measures up nicely with reports from other investigators that have looked into Obama’s real record of dealing with Congressional Republicans. Kondracke reports that Obama’s “bipartisan” efforts are practically non-existent and warns the president that he better remember his past promises saying, “It’s time for Obama to remember all those ‘post-partisan’ campaign promises of his and find ways to listen to Republicans and accommodate some of their ideas.”

For all his ballyhooing of that post-partisan Washington, Barack Obama has done precisely nothing to begin that effort. Oh, he’s had a few dinner parties and late night cocktail sessions with Congressional Republicans, sure. But when it’s come to actual policy proscriptions, Obama has offered NO compromise of his far left ideas. Kondracke notes this quoting Sen. Lamar Alexander (R, TN).

The problem is that Bush-style mutual suspicion is taking hold. Alexander said that the White House is good about visits and cordiality, but that “when it comes to engaging Republican Senators on the merits of our ideas, not much has happened.”

Kondracke also quotes Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to the same effect.

Ryan told me that, where the House is concerned, “there’s no collaboration or exchanges of ideas. They have isolated and ostracized Republicans and they’ve decided to go solo.

In my own discussions with politicians and those that deal with them I’ve heard the same thing. Obama has glad-handed a lot. But he has made NO effort to force his majority leaders in Congress to actually put that bi-partisanship into policy. Obama has made no effort at all to give Republicans any concessions and has allowed his Congressional allies to act with impunity.

Kondracke ends with this admonition:

Indeed. But Obama and his party have to play their part to — by listening to alternative ideas and taking them seriously.

And so far Obama has utterly failed in every way to act on his claims of wanting a bi-partisan administration.

In all, Kondracke’s piece was built on solid reporting. Kudos to him.

Then we come to the slop penned by Dunkelman.

Dunkleman spends his first paragraph praising Obama as the wunderkind that is ready to re-invent government, the next few flogging a pie-in-the-sky book by Ron Browstein talking about how the electorate is tired of partisanship, goes on to quote Bill Clinton, of all people. And then gets to his charge…

Two months into his administration, some have come to question whether the president has already failed in his effort to change the tone in Washington. Despite private meetings at the White House, compromises on key issues, and overwhelming public support for the president’s agenda, not a single Republican House member voted for the president’s stimulus plan.

The problem here is that Obama’s “private meetings” seem to be mere window dressing for the masses to lap up because the “compromises on key issues” that Dunkelman talks about have not happened. Not only was there no “compromise on key issues” but the “president’s stimulus plan” that Dunkelman is talking about wasn’t even his. It was the effort of Congressional Democrats written in meetings at which they excluded Republicans, unread by most everyone and all without a single part authored by the White House. The extent to which Obama was involved in much of what has come from Washington thus far has begun and ended with his sonorous speeches on the permanent campaign trail. Obama has not lowered himself to actually get involved in crafting legislation.

It’s a bit rich to call this the “president’s stimulus plan” when all he did was say we needed one and then walked off to let other’s actually create it.

So, what is Dunkelman talking about? It’s all his attempt to exonerate Obama on his failure to implement any bi-partisanship, naturally.

The new president may be a transformational political figure, but we ought not castigate him for failing to perform a miracle. His success should be measured by a different yardstick. Most important, we should gauge how well he maintains support of the so-called swing voters—namely those who voted for Bush in 2004, but against McCain four year later. No doubt that the Democratic base voted for “change” away from Republican government last fall. But swing voters piled onto the Obama bandwagon because he promised to end the gridlock. If his policy agenda stays in line with their political sensibilities, Republicans may be forced more often to buck their more parochial interests.

In other words, one gets the notion that Dunkelman is sitting under a sheet somewhere crying for us all to “leave Barack ALONE!”

Dunkelman does not once visit the actual truth in this editorial. He does not even mention Obama’s failure to actually do anything meaningful toward bi-partisanship. It’s all the GOPs fault as far as Dunkelman is concerned. He ends cementing that assumption.

The persistence of Washington’s polarization has proven that Ron Brownstein was right about the root causes of partisanship. But even if Obama’s political talent could not retrench two generations of partisan rancor in three weeks, all is not lost. Maybe now we can agree that the root causes of polarization demand more than inspired leadership. And that’s real progress, by any stretch.

Yes, all is not lost. We have the Obammessiah shining his light upon us. Who cares if that light only illuminates a path for donkeys?

Finally, there is a large dollop of historical revisionism on this assumed new state of “polarization” in Washington, too. Sadly, the empty reporting that posits that this is the first time in history there has been any hint of polarization in the nation’s capitol is completely untrue. Federalists and AntiFederalists would have laughed at such a notion in the late 1700s. Whigs and Democrats would have thought you a dolt in the mid 1800s. Heck, Republicans and Democrats got into a shooting war over their “bi-partisanship” in the 1860s! And for the next 40 years after the Civil War the GOP “waved the bloody shirt” with abandon quashing any hope for a bi-partisan Washington. For the Old Media to promulgate the feeling that this is the first time Washington has been bitterly partisan is simply a lie. But it is a lie used to beat up the GOP and give aid to Barack Obama, so the “news” folk don’t mind the deception too terribly… if they are even informed enough to know the true history of our political process.

So, while Kondracke’s piece is a fine example of some real reporting and analysis, the dreck by Marc Dunkelman, however, is a sad excuse for it.

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