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So Much for New Politics

On Sunday, the New York Times fessed up:

Nasty charges of bribery. Senators cut off mid-speech. Accusations of politics put over patriotism. Talk of double-crosses. A nonagenarian forced out after midnight for multiple procedural votes.In the heart of the holiday season, Senate Republicans and Democrats are at one another’s throats as the health care overhaul reaches its climactic votes, one of which is set for 1 a.m. Monday. A year that began with hopes of new post-partisanship has indeed produced change: Things have gotten worse.

Well, yes they have. How did we get to this point? Well, for starters, Obama, who ran on his determination to transcend partisan divisions, remained a passive and aloof figure when it came to the drafting and the details, allowing partisan passions to run wild. His sole concern was winning, not building a broad-based coalition for revolutionary legislation. Indeed, he contributed to partisan furies by labeling opponents as confused and misinformed and by repeating a series of partisan and baseless accusations against Republicans (the principal one — that they had “no alternative” — was easily disproved by the plethora of conservative plans and proposals). Obama had a reason for proceeding in this way — he wanted to rely on the muscle of large Democratic majorities to obtain the most liberal bill he could get. On Sunday John McCain explained:

There’s been a change. It’s more partisan. It’s more bitterly divided than it’s been. I have never been asked to engage in a single serious negotiation on any issue, nor has any other Republican. Now they’ve brought single Republicans down to try to pick off one or two Republicans so you can call it, quote, bipartisan. There’s never been serious across-the-table negotiations on any serious issue that I have engaged in with — I and others have engaged in with other administrations, both Republican and Democrat.

And if comity and Obama’s own credibility were sacrificed along the way, well, that’s simply what a Chicago pol must do to win.

It’s not a pretty picture, as even the Times must concede:

On Sunday, Republicans did not mince words when characterizing provisions put in the health care bill to attract the final votes for passage, particularly that of Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska. Some suggested that special Nebraska considerations in the bill amounted to bribery and corruption. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that it was reflective of “seedy Chicago politics.”

“In order to try to get the 60 votes, there has been basically a pay to play approach to this, and it’s just repulsive,” [Sen. John] Cornyn said.

Now some say that bipartisanship is overrated. But Obama wasn’t one of them. He got himself elected, in large part, because he promised to rise about the naked partisanship that had alienated so many voters. No Blue and Red States, just the United States of America and all that. So the question remains whether having jettisoned that tone and approach to politics, the president and his party will face any consequences. It’s not hard to imagine that once the dreamy idealism of young voters, the optimism of independents (who had grown disgusted with politics as normal), and the self-delusion of some Republicans (convinced that Obama was a man of reason, not of bare-knuckle politics) are drained away, the Democrats will face a motivation deficit in 2010 and perhaps beyond.

Having adopted the worst qualities of his hyper-partisan predecessors, Obama has left the “outsider” and “change” message by the wayside. We’ll see if his opponents are savvy enough to grab it and run for daylight.



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