Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama walks softly, but carries a big stick


That's how many House Republicans voted for President Obama's stimulus package after he went to great lengths to meet with them to explain the package and hear their views. This gaping partisan divide says very little about President Obama's skills. It says a lot about just who is left in the diminished Republican House ranks.

"Moderate Republican" has become an oxymoron. These mostly guys play to the "base," the 25 percent of Americans who still believe George W. Bush was a great president, the ones who watch Hannity and O'Reilly or listen to Limbaugh, that wholesome threesome who, while the world celebrated the inauguration, were busy wringing their hands about when the muslim hordes would land on our shores with Obama in charge. It's unsettling that nearly one in four Americans actually lives on another planet, seemingly unaware that this one is moving on from their pretty-much-anti-everything view of things. But it isn't unsettling enough to waste too much energy on.

So far, President Obama has struck the right balance, telling one Republican Congressman, "I won," when asked why he wasn't incorporating more Republican ideas, yet continuing to meet with and listen to Republican leaders in what I'm guessing is a slow-moving effort to at least expose them to arguments they don't usually hear.

Two things happened on Wednesday that exemplify the dance step the president is trying to master. In a statement praising House passage of the stimulus package, Obama made no mention of the uniform Republican opposition. But he did say: "What we can't do is drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get ino our way. we must move switly and boldy to put Americans back to work, and that is exactly what this plan begins to do."

Then he threw a cocktail party -- for leaders of both parties. The message seems clear: "Republicans, you can play now or pay later. But I won't demonize you or isolate you, even
as your mouthpieces trash me."

Will the Republicans drop their overt partisanship? No chance. In the House, especially, they're all marching to a drummer most of us just don't hear anymore. But Obama is wise to follow the lesson of a Republican president of a different time -- Teddy Roosevelt. When it comes to economic policy at least, so far he's chosen to "walk softly, but carry a big stick."

No comments: