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Robert J. Elisberg

Robert J. Elisberg

Posted February 10, 2009 | 10:33 AM (EST)

Republicans Build a Roadblock to Nowhere


Hats off to the Republican Party for joining Democrats in a noble call of bi-partisan government.

It's refreshing, since during the previous eight years, we didn't hear much from the GOP about bi-partisanship. ("Much" is defined here as "anything.') Oh, sure, we did hear calls of traitor, cowards and unpatriotic against Democrats. And we did hear George Bush proclaim a mandate after a hairs-breath victory. But it's just not the same.

Perhaps that's where the problem lies - Republicans mistakenly thought people wanted them to rule "by partisanship." Only today do they weep for actual bi-partisanship, now that Democrats won two landslide national elections, and control the House, Senate and White House. Gee, go figure.

Pretty much the only time we heard the word "bi-partisanship" from Republican lips during the Bush years was when John McCain claimed he was the only candidate who could work across the aisles. Ah, the whimsy. Already, one of the loudest, constant critics of the Obama White House is that same, dear John McCain demanding Republican tax cuts - which helped create this disaster. (Apparently economic "expert" McCain hasn't yet realized that the fundamentals of our economy aren't strong, and it's not just a mental recession ...)

And on and on, Republicans en masse continue to cry crocodile tears for bi-partisanship.

It's a fascinating spectacle. At the very same time, the new chairman of their party, Michael Steele, momentarily forgetting the Republican Bi-partisanship Talking Point, said in his acceptance speech: "We're going to say to friend and foe alike, we want you to be a part of us. And to those of you who will obstruct, get ready to get knocked over."

Further, the Voice of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, called out his hope that Barack Obama "fails." And a leading contender for the next Republican nomination for president, Mitt Romney, blasted Barack Obama's tenure as "rocky" - after just 10 days in office. Former Vice President Dick Cheney claimed Obama Administration decisions will lead to a terrorist attack (conveniently leaving out the terrorist attack on his own watch). Even former Chief-of-Staff Andrew Card chimed in to assail Barack Obama - on his wardrobe!! (Which inconveniently turned out to be not only stupid and thoughtless, but wrong.)

And House Republicans showed their true interest in bi-partisanship by voting 176-0 against the Obama stimulus package. Not one Republican for it. Zippo. All following the tearful lead of their Minority Leader, John Boehner. When you deliver zero votes, that's not political disagreement, that's an order from the top. That's intent. That's a partisan vote. All the while crying for bi-partisanship.

(Well, not "all." That head of the Republican Party, Mr. Steele, chortled, "The goose egg that you laid on the president's desk was just beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.")

From their the top leadership on down, Republicans have been as grossly, unrelentingly partisan as they ever were during the blinders-on George Bush Years. All the while, crying for bi-partisanship. Given the economic crisis their leadership caused, it's a sickening spectacle.

On the other side of that aisle, we have Barack Obama naming three Republicans to his cabinet. We have Barack Obama agreeing to let a Democratic governor select a Republican to replace Judd Gregg when he leaves the Senate. We have Barack Obama going to Capitol Hill and meeting with the House Republican caucus. (This already tops by one the number of times George Bush came to a Democratic caucus in eight years.) We have Barack Obama meeting with Republican leaders to discuss the Stimulus Program.

Could President Obama have solicited more bi-partisan input with Republicans? Absolutely. But in two weeks, he's done more than most presidents do in their lifetime.

(Side note: Republicans like to point out Ronald Reagan meeting with Speaker Tip O'Neill, to hammer out his tax program. Huge difference. First, that's as far as Mr. Reagan bent, one person. And second, he had to meet with O'Neill - because the Speaker's opposing party controlled the House. Barack Obama's party controls the House, Senate and Oval Office. And he's still reaching out across the aisle.)

And all the while, Republicans stand near-united to fight the President of the United States out of one side of their mouths - and cry for bi-partisanship out of the other.

Incidentally, it's worth noting that the Republican definition of bi-partisanship appears to mean "cut taxes."

On Friday, President Obama finally addressed the ludicrous Republican criticism about spending in the stimulus bill. "What do they think 'stimulus' is???!!" he asked with incredulous bemusement.

Acting in a bi-partisan manner is a very good thing. But - being bi-partisan requires having that "bi" part. If your bi-pals refuse to play, if they vote 176-0, it's not going to happen. Further, as important as bi-partisanship is, it is not the core of our democracy. America is based on a two-party system battling ideas in the public grounds. And right now, the party that won that conflict in the last two landslide elections is the Democrats.

Here's to bi-partisanship! But here, too, is to American government. And if Republicans truly believe in both, it's time they dry their empty tears and act like they understand it.

Be the noble loyal opposition. But have the decency to grasp that America is in crushing economic crisis by their own party's causing and accept that they are not in charge any longer. The reach of bi-partisanship only goes so far. Republicans have spoken and rejected it. It's time instead to actually govern America.