[NOTE: This post has beed UPDATED]
One of the fondest hopes of many of Obama’s supporters was that he would be “post-partisan,” that he would put an end to the partisan bickering in Washington by rising above party himself, putting the interest of the nation first and thus leading others to do the same.
Post-partisanship is of course difficult, given our party-based government located in a party-obsessed town permeated by a press corps permanently fixated primarily on who wins/who loses in every deal (and in its view everything is a deal, never an act in the national interest). If you think this view extreme, just look at the coverage of today’s debt deal: how much of the coverage analyzes the actual effect of the deal on the economy and how much on who won and who lost?
Hard as it is, and despite the many obstacles Obama’s own behavior has placed in the path of describing the president as post-partisan (at least without laughing at the preposterousness of such a description), there are those who continue to do so. One of them is President Obama himself, who looks in a mirror and still sees the saintly above the fray leader his supporters once dreamed he would be. He (just ask him) is the adult in the room, presiding magisterially but benevolently over the squabbling partisan brats in the Congress.
Just two days ago, in his Weekly Address to the nation, the president criticized Republicans for pushing a plan that “would force us to re-live this crisis in just a few short months. It would hold our economy captive to Washington politics once again.” And, he continued,
Any solution to avoid default must be bipartisan. It must have the support of both parties that were sent here to represent the American people – not just one faction of one party….
Here in Washington, we need to get our house in order. And I have to say, Democrats in Congress and some Senate Republicans have been listening and have shown themselves willing to make compromises to solve this crisis. Now all of us – including Republicans in the House of Representatives – need to demonstrate the same kind of responsibility that the American people show every day. The time for putting party first is over. The time for compromise on behalf of the American people is now. Thank you.
Let us not hover too long over the Obamian hypocrisy of claiming — in an address whose punch line is “The time for putting party first is over”! — that “all Democrats in Congress” but only “some Senate Republicans” have shown a willingness to compromise. What I would like to emphasize instead is the irony of his dig at the Tea Party: his insistence that any solution to the debt problem “must have the support of both parties that were sent here to represent the American people – not just one faction of one party.”
The irony is that the Tea Party Republicans are the only players in this entire drama who have consistently put their principles — another way of describing their beliefs about what is best for the nation — above any partisan concern over what is best for their party. If you doubt that, just ask John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, or listen to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, both of whom describe themselves as conservatives first and Republicans second.
Actually, it’s not completely fair to say that the Tea Party Republicans are the only players who don’t put party first. An occasional fellow traveler with them on the principled highway is none other than President Obama, who has demonstrated a number of times that he is dedicated more to accomplishing his ideological agenda than promoting the primacy of the Democratic Party.
He quite consciously chose to sacrifice Democratic control of the House (and was willing to risk a similar loss of the Senate) in order to pass Obamacare. And, on a much less principled plane (unless the Supreme Principle is that what’s good for Obama is good for the nation), he said many times that his “bottom line” for the debt deal was not any item on the progressive wish list but that it raise the ceiling until some time in 2013, past the next election. He was willing to give up everything, even his much beloved taxing the rich, in order to spare himself from having his deficits front and and center during the next presidential campaign.
The moral? Be very careful in wishing for non-partisan politicians. Beneath that attractive surface they are often uncompromising ideologues or self-promoting narcissists. Or both.
UPDATE [1 August 10:00 p.m.]
The above evaluation is shared by Jennifer Rubin in her Washington Post blog:
Democrats lost on virtually every issue of principle (taxes, a clean debt bill, real spending cuts) because the president insisted above all else on getting himself to the next election without another showdown.