Barack Obama’s pledge to bring America together and specifically
attempt to work across party lines with Republicans in the governing
process was laudable, but I always wondered if it would work. The
principle reason is that the key to Republican power has been their
remarkable clarity of ideology and the party discipline behind it.
was patently evident when Newt Gingrich took over in 1994 after
the “Republican Revolution” netted 54 seats in the House
and eight seats in the Senate, giving Republicans control of the
Congress for the first time in 40 years. They promptly proceeded
to rearrange the administration of the Congress in their own image
and the ruthlessness of it caught Democrats by surprise, as they
became virtually shut out of the governing process – not given
legislative documents, not told where vital meetings were being
held, and defeated time and again by party vote. In the first
100 days, Gingrich enacted every bill in the ten-point “Contract
With America,” except for the proposed Constitutional Amendment
mandating term limits for members of Congress.
Despite the fall of that era, the pattern of disciplined, ideological
behavior that made them dominant remains. For example,
Rush Limbaugh, conservative talk-show host and Republican powerhouse,
forthrightly rejected Obama’s overture of bi-partisanship,
saying that he wanted him “to fail.” Whining that
Obama would bring in a new season of Liberalism, he was fearful
that the return of liberalism would bring back Affirmative Action.
It seems that is what is really under the covers of the rejection
his credit, Obama shot back in a meeting with Republicans, saying
that they could not afford to participate in bi-partisan governance
and listen to Rush Limbaugh at the same time, because he represented
the narrow partisan politics of the past that he was trying to get
doesn’t seem, however, that they were listening to him.
John Boehner, leader of the Republicans in the House, after the
meeting with the President was over, promptly railed against the
size of the Stimulus package and continued his opposition on Meet
the Press (January 25), saying that there was a lot of “wasteful
spending” in the package and little to spur job growth.
McCain picked up the criticism of Obama whose first act was to sign
a series of Executive Orders, one of which limited the influence
of lobbyist access to his administration. And even though had honored
McCain with a dinner and asked for his help in passing his plan,
but McCain called the new lobbying rules “disingenuous”
and refused to support the Stimulus in its “current form.”
Texas Republican John Cornyn used his extraordinary power as Senator
and held up confirmation proceedings for Eric Holder, Attorney General-designate,
attempting to get assurances from him that he will not pursue legal
actions against the presumptive illegalities of George Bush’s
administration. For example, the investigation into
the use of intelligence by the Bush White House and Dick Chaney
are still live issues, such as whether a crime was committed in
“outing” a secret agent contrary to federal law.
And although one notices that Bush did not pardon Scooter Libby,
there are also issues of torture by the administration, the illicit
use of federal funds in contracting related to the Iraq war and
others that could serve as a basis for indictment.
recently watched the proceedings of the Appropriations Committee
and the Committee on Ways and Means in the House as they processed
the Stimulus package amendments. The pattern of Republican
opposition to the measure was strong and their intent to have their
way just as apparent; I could see little evidence that the word
to exercise bi-partisanship had come down from on high.
the intransigence of the Republicans – they once called the
Democrats “obstructionists” for not going along –
I wonder whether President Obama and his colleagues will have the
guts to exercise the same degree of discipline and get the Stimulus
package through if their attempt at bi-partisanship fails.
It always seems that Democrats are the givers and Republicans are
the takers. That has got to end if Obama is to “turn
the page” on the conservative dominance in American politics.
Editorial Board member
Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar, Director
of the African American Leadership Center and Professor of Government
and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park. His latest
book is: The
Price of Racial Reconciliation (The Politics of Race and Ethnicity)
(Rowman and Littlefield). Click here
to contact Dr. Walters.