Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Return of the Moderate Republican

With all the talk about the horde of Tea Party extremists about to descend upon Washington next January, the real story has been the surprising resurrection of the moderate Republicans – primarily in the Senate – who have ostensibly defied their party’s leadership and joined ranks with the hated Democrats to produce the most effective lame-duck session Congress has seen in decades. The START Treaty, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the 9/11 First Responders bill all passed within the last week and serve as testimony that Congress, when it puts its mind to it, can in fact come together and pass significant legislation.

Now, to be sure, none of this spirit of bipartisanship would’ve been possible without the President “caving” on the Bush tax cuts, something, as I recall, his base railed against as selling out to their ideals and values. Remember that line in the sand progressives drew? Well the tide of compromise just swept it out to sea.

While no one with a brain in his or her head expects this new-found brotherly love to last long – in deed I’d be surprised if it survived into February – the nation at least caught a glimpse of something rare in American politics, and I, for one, am impressed. Despite some rather passionate progressive values that resonate deep within my being, at heart I have always believed that the prospect of one side getting everything it wants – no matter how much it might benefit my agenda – can be detrimental to the country. Apparently I have some company in this mindset.

Write down the following names in your rolodex: Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Olympia Snow, Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander, Thad Cochran, Mike Crapo and Tom Coburn. With the House all but certain to resemble the proverbial shop of political horrors over the next two years, look for Obama to build alliances with these moderate Republican Senators and others as he pivots to the Center and isolates the Right. Bill Clinton did virtually the same thing after his mid-term trouncing and took much of the wind out of Newt Gingrich’s sails. If this lame duck is any indication, Captain Pragmatic already has a head start on dear old Bill. As of now Obama’s approval rating has jumped to 56%; the highest it’s been in over a year. By comparison, Clinton had to wait until his second term before his poll numbers recovered that much.

Want to know how certain I am that Obama is succeeding? Just look at the reaction of the wing nuts on Fox News. You think progressives are all up in arms over the new spirit of compromise in Washington, just take a gander at the talking heads at Mount Rupert. Linda Blair looked more amenable in the Exorcist. Witness this exchange between Dick Morris and perennial Bill O’Reilly flunky Laura Ingraham on Bill O’s show.

Ingraham: “Dick am I wrong to be kind of a little bit depressed this Christmas season given the Republicans’ performance on the START Treaty, on some of these other key issues, on the stimulus that was in the tax cut deal…is it better than I think?”

Morris: "What is crucial to focus on is they didn't get any spending cuts in return. Had the Republicans simply said, 'No dice. This is an illegitimate lame duck session, people are not entitled to vote because they were defeated and we're not going to pass anything and we're going to do it on January 2nd and then we're going to demand spending cuts,' which now will have to be fought for in the debt limit ceiling or in the new budget and in the meantime the deficit keeps clicking."

Of course old Motor Mouth and Major Turncoat haven’t acknowledged the real underlining truth in their convoluted logic: namely that the tax cut deal came about mainly due to the fact that for two years Republicans held firm to an all or nothing approach and refused to allow anything to come to a vote on the floor of the Senate unless their demands were met. They took a nation hostage and now they have the audacity to blame Democrats for paying the ransom.

The fact that Obama has forced them to eat their own words has understandably caused a considerable amount of indigestion among the rabble. Ironic isn’t it? Morris, of all people, should recognize the maneuver that out flanked his comrades; his old boss honed it to perfection fifteen years ago. As Yogi Berra would’ve said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Given how arrogant and presumptuous the Right has behaved over the last two years, it was a sweet sight to behold.

Yes, progressives are going to have to swallow quite a lot of pride over the next two years, and we are going to have to make a number of sacrifices and concessions that we would normally never acquiesce to, but the price may be worth it, if, in the end, we can help bring about a splintering of the Party of No. It isn’t going to be easy. The House will be particularly problematic given that this is the chamber where virtually all appropriations are written, but if Obama can politically isolate the extremist elements within it, in the end reason may prevail and something of a working relationship can develop between the White House and Congress.

That is the true mandate that has been given to Washington. Despite what the far Right and, yes, the far Left would have us believe, the electorate expects both sides to come together and govern. The time for holding one’s breath and counting to a zillion must come to an end. This soap opera is getting old fast. If Obama is truly the adult in a classroom that’s full of juvenile delinquents then his greatest tests lie ahead of him. If he wishes he can kill two birds with one stone; first by atoning for a multitude of sins during the first two years of his presidency and then, in the process, securing his place in history alongside his Democratic predecessor. Personally, I’m betting he’s up for the challenge, which is more than I would’ve said even a month ago.


Susan Ramey Cleveland said...

I am amazed that some of them think that lawmakers in the lame duck session that have been defeated and won't be back in Jan. aren't allowed to vote on bills while they're still in office. They were elected for a specific term, and until that term is up, they're still congressmen. Am I wrong?

Susan Ramey Cleveland said...

And a very Merry Christmas to you, Peter.

Peter Fegan said...

Thank you Susan, the same to you and yours.

jasdye said...

bar hambug, i says.

Here's my beef: Nothing truly positive will come out of Washington for some time. Not because of the need for compromise, but b/c the system is gamed against us. The corporatists - whether they disguise themselves as 'moderate Democrats', 'deficit hawks', Teahadists, Congressional leaders, or Cabinet members - are going to have their way and the rest of us will suffer w/ losses to social security, massive cuts to safety nets, rising health care costs, and lack of living wage jobs.

Obama's just a bit player in this game - and it's time we changed the rules.

Ray said...

I found the accomplishments of the lame duck congress inspirational. Pressure from Jon Stewart helped; keep it up, Jon!