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Was 'Post-Partisanship' the Problem?

By Dan Froomkin
1:09 PM ET, 02/ 5/2009

A major irony of President Obama's pursuit of an economic stimulus package may end up being that in his attempt to be "post-partisan" -- and avoid that "partisan gridlock" he campaigned against -- he conferred legitimacy on the strident arguments of a discredited minority that might otherwise have been marginalized by the media and the public.

In the last couple days, Obama has started more explicitly blaming this particular partisan gridlock on Republicans.

Peter Nicholas writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Obama abruptly changed tactics Wednesday in his bid to revive the economy, setting aside his bipartisan stance and pointedly blaming Republicans for demanding what he cast as discredited 'piecemeal measures.'

"Obama's comments were a marked departure from the conciliatory tone he has maintained as he courted Republican votes for his stimulus package through compromise....

"'Now, let me say this,' Obama said. 'In the past few days, I've heard criticisms of this plan that frankly echo the very same failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis in the first place -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems, that we can address this enormous crisis with half steps and piecemeal measures and tinkering around the edges, that we can ignore fundamental challenges, like the high cost of healthcare, and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

"'I reject these theories,' he continued. 'And, by the way, so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change.'"

See also Obama's op-ed in The Washington Post today.

Rick Klein writes for ABC News: "President Obama appears to be scaling back his efforts to attract a broad bipartisan consensus for his bill.

"Where once there was talk of a resounding bipartisan vote in Congress, the goal now is simple passage of the bill -- even if that means (as seems very likely) it will pass with almost exclusively Democratic votes."

Why the change in course? Well, despite Obama's outreach to Republicans, as Jeanne Cummings writes for Politico: "[I]t was business as usual on Capitol Hill for Republicans.

"They could practically sleep-walk through their attack plan once House Democrats began to fill in Obama's broad outlines for a stimulus with a few pet projects of their own.

"It required two simple steps: Scream pork, call Rush Limbaugh."

Michael Hirsh writes for Newsweek: "Obama's desire to begin a 'post-partisan' era may have backfired. In his eagerness to accommodate Republicans and listen to their ideas over the past week, he has allowed the GOP to turn the haggling over the stimulus package into a decidedly stale, Republican-style debate over pork, waste and overspending. This makes very little economic sense when you are in a major recession that only gets worse day by day. Yes, there are still some very legitimate issues with a bill that's supposed to be 'temporary' and 'targeted' — among them, large increases in permanent entitlement spending, and a paucity of tax cuts requiring immediate spending. Even so, Obama has allowed Congress to grow embroiled in nitpicking over efficiency when the central debate should be about whether the package is big enough. When you are dealing with a stimulus of this size, there are going to be wasteful expenditures and boondoggles. There's no way anyone can spend $800 to $900 billion quickly without waste and boondoggles. It comes with the Keynesian territory. This is an emergency; the normal rules do not apply."

I now see that my post earlier this morning, The Questions Obama Needs to Answer, hits on many of the same points that Joan Walsh hit in Salon yesterday: "Obama is the most remarkable Democratic communicator of my lifetime, I think, and even he's not rising to the task, yet. He needs to lay out his priorities, clearly; he needs to simplify his pitch, yet he also needs to add some depth to his and our understanding of how we got here. This economic crisis is not just about bad mortgages and/or the housing bubble bursting, and it won't be solved by reinflating that bubble, the Republicans' latest dumb idea. These problems have been building since at least the 1970s."

As for the press coverage, via Media Matters, here is NBC's Chuck Todd says some Democrats feel "that basically Matt Drudge has been the managing editor for deciding which part of the stimulus package gets highlighted."

And Joe Klein writes for Time: "It pains me to watch normally reasonable colleagues overreacting to Obama's situation now... Some form of stimulus will pass. If it doesn't revive the economy, then more stimulus will be passed. Obama's maintaining the proper balance of reaching out to Republicans, making some compromises, but staying firm on the need for a bill that includes public works as well as tax cuts."

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