Sunday, October 11, 2009

To Dream the Impossible Dream

Somewhere deep in the White House, at night when all is quiet and the ghosts

of former occupants roam the halls, President Obama dreams of a world where men of

good will come together, seize common ground, and perform acts of public service which

advance the best interests of this nation. Visions of sugar plums don't dance in his head.

Rather, he has visions of Republicans and Democrats working together on issues ranging

from energy to healthcare and from foreign policy to monetary policy. He is destined to

be disappointed and his quest will crash on the rocky shores of failure because the Holy

Grail of bi-partisanship does not exist and the search for it is useless and non-productive.

There is a myth in this land which is told to young legislators upon arrival in

Washington. It is said legislation which has the support of both parties is the gold standard.

If both parties support it, the vast majority of Americans will support it too. If Republicans

and Democrats sign on, then it must be centrist and moderate legislation. Nothing radical

will emerge from a bi-partisan effort. It is a myth precisely because it is no longer possible

and may never have been true.

This week Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus unveiled his healthcare reform

plan. In his plan, he trumpets how it was cobbled together with a group of three Democrats

and three Republicans. Despite the fact all three of the Republicans already are on record

as opposing the plan, Baucus claims his ideas have the best chance of getting some

Republican votes. He is deluded at best and duplicitous at worst.

Bi-partisanship is no longer an achievable goal. There are virtually no moderates

or centrists left in the Republican Party. Starting with the Gingrich revolution in 1994,

most moderate and centrist Republicans have been driven out, voted out (think Christopher

Shays of Connecticut or Jim Leach of Iowa), or have left the party voluntarily (think Arlen

Specter of Pennsylvania and Jim Jeffords of Vermont). There is no 'there' there anymore.

The Democratic Party's reach is so broad, traditional red states like Indiana,

Virginia, and North Carolina have turned blue. All three states were won by Obama in

2008 and in all three states Democrats picked up Senate or House seats. Democrats

like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Evan Bayh of Indiana

would have been Republicans in another era. They would have served with Gerald Ford

or Bob Michel in the House or Bob Packwood and Lincoln Chafee in the Senate. So-called

Rockefeller Republicans no longer exist in the GOP.

If you want to be a moderate or political centrist, the Democratic Party is the

only game in town. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine are the only quasi-moderates

left in the Republican Party. They have no counterparts in the House at all.

If the President can claim his healthcare bill is bi-partisan, he believes it will

make it more acceptable or popular. The President received a few Republican votes on

his energy bill when it passed the House in late July. The result has been the Republican

National Committee, Senatorial and House Campaign Committees, and independent

regressive PACS have targeted many of those who voted with the President for defeat

in 2010. Having a few Republican votes did not insulate the bill from criticism nor did

it help its' journey in the Senate (where some say it is dead).

In trying to satisfy Republican criticism and look moderate, Senator Baucus'

bill abandons the public option, weakens regulations requiring employers to provide

insurance or face hefty fines (he reduced the fines so much as to be irrelevant), increases

the cost of health insurance for middle class families, and does almost nothing to control

costs. For all his efforts, Baucus found out before he unveiled the bill that Senator Charles

Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, and Senator Snowe were all on the record

saying they wouldn't vote for the bill Baucus proposed.

President Obama needs to abandon any attempt to assuage Republican critics.

The real bi-partisanship is in his own party. He needs to craft a bill which will appeal to

the widest number of Democrats. This group represents the widest group of Americans

both ideologically and geographically. The Republicans are now a party almost exclusively

of the South and the white. It has no center and it's appeal is getting narrower and more

Regressive with each passing month.

The President needs to craft a bill that benefits the largest segment of Americans

and then tell his party if they want to continue to be successful, they will vote for it. He

will tell them to fight every filibuster and bring the bill up for a vote. He will tell them

they were sent to Washington to change things, to progress, to accomplish something and

will be returned home if they do not. He will tell Nelson, Landrieu, Bayh and the other

"moderates" they will gain nothing politically by voting against healthcare reform because

the Republicans will target them for defeat no matter how they vote. The Republicans will

attack them as too liberal and too moderate and will try to defeat them. The President

needs to remind them they have no place to go. There is no room in the Republican Party

for them. The party of Hanbaugh and Beck and O'Reilly, the party of Palin and Huckabee

and Gingrich, the party of Fox News and World Net Daily, wants nothing to do with them.

The Color Purple is no longer just a novel. It is a description of the middle of the

Democratic Party.

In the Man of La Mancha, everyone tries to talk Don Quixote into giving up his

assaults on windmills. President Obama can dream of a color blind society and reigning

in an out-of-control Wall Street. He can tilt at an unacceptably high unemployment rate

and attack a healthcare system which only benefits the bottom line of insurance companies.

He needs to abandon the quixotic quest of bi-partisanship because it is an impossible

goal and will be for many years to come. Some impossible dreams really are. What do

you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

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