How to Lose Friends and Influence No One

Republicans in the House of Representative are a distinct minority holding just 178 of 435 seats (there are at least three vacancies, only in one of which the GOP has a chance to take a Democratic seat). One might hope this small band would offer detailed alternatives to the majority’s policies and proposals, but there’s a political risk to that strategy. Standing for something, as opposed to against most everything, provides an opportunity for your opponents to debate you on substance, not emotion or ideology. Democrats failed to do so when they were in the minority. Asking Republicans to come forward with their own budget is somewhat naive, requiring a level of political courage no one should expect.

The other alternative for a minority party is to adopt guerilla tactics, constantly harassing the majority through legislative maneuvering, talk show diatribes and attacks through a variety of communication channels. Ideally the minority party should seek an occasional victory to both rally the troops and depress the opposition. When you’re 70 seats short of a majority, however, that’s not easy.

Fortunately for Republicans, there are conservative Democrats in Congress who might be willing to hep them out on specific issues. These “Blue Dog” Democrats are a formal, recognized group — they even have their own web site. With 47 members (one suspects there may be a few more sympathizers out there, at least on some issues) they could be of great help to the GOP. Fiscally conservative, the Blue Dogs have been as critical of some of the economic plans touted by the Obama Administration and the House Leadership as Republicans have been, albeit more politely.

If Republican House Leaders want to have an impact on the budget or health care reform or taxes you’d think they’d be reaching out to these moderate Democrats, right? Not the current GOP leadership. They’re so partisan they go out of their way to insult these potential allies. According to a posting in Politico by Alex Isenstadt, House Republican leader John Boehner referred to Blue Dog Democrats as “lap dogs.” Speaking before a group of appreciative lobbyists (there’s an astute setting for flinging insults) Mr. Boehner said the moderate Democrats refuse “to get off people’s laps and actually do something.”

Eventually, Republicans will recognize they need all the help they can get, even if it comes from moderate Democrats, many of whom occupy seats the GOP will be targeting in the 2010 mid-term election. House Minority Leader Boehner will have made their ability to work together a bit tougher.

Thid clod-footed politics could, I suppose, help explain why House Republicans got to be a minority party in the first place.

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Blagojevich Scandal the First Test of Post-Partisanship Washington

The election of Senator Barack Obama to be President of the United States could herald a new era of post-partisanship. President-elect Obama has made it clear he intends to listen to all sides, especially those who disagree with him. He seems to understand the reality that to last, reforms must be accepted by a broad range of the political spectrum. Otherwise, the next time the pendulum swings, those changes will be swept away.

The first test of this post-partisan era arrived this morning when federal authorities arrested Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich for selling appointment to the seat President-elect Obama has vacated. As United States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald put it, “The Senate seat … seemed to be on the verge of being auctioned off.”

Let’s be clear, based on what was caught on tape, Governor (and hopefully soon to be ex-Governor) Blagojevich is the most disreputable sort of politician. He sullied his office and shamed himself and his family. He appears to be an egotistical crook with no shame, judgement or ethics.

Let’s also be clear, based on what we know today, President-elect Obama and his team had no involvement in the Governor’s chicanery. In fact, the Associated Press reports that Governor Blagojevich was caught on tape complaining that “Obama’s people are ‘not going to give me anything except appreciation.”

Despite this reality, the far right wing will seek to tie the president-elect to this scandal. After all, they are both Democrats from Chicago, knew and no doubt endorsed one another, and have ties to the convicted Illinois fundraiser Tony Rezko. So there’s plenty of material for fantasists to use in spinning their conspiracies. That means the zeolots over at GOPUSA and their ilk will have a field day. Who cares?

The real question is whether more mainstream Republicans will rush to judgement. It’s their behavior that will mark the maturity of the GOP. If they respond responsibly it’s a sign they’re willing to give the new president a fair chance — a demonstration of post-partisanship. If they initiate a campaign of innuendo, marked by the accusation of the day, aimed at tainting the incoming administration, it would mark a continuation of the poisonous partisanship that has brought the approval ratings of the Bush Administration and Congress to the cellar they currently occupy.

The appointment scandal is a tragedy. It is also the first test of how the Obama Administration and conservatives in general, Republicans in particular, will conduct themselves. There are unfortunate hints Republicans won’t be able to resist sliding back into old habits. The Republican National Committee, shortly after President-elect Obama statedthat he had “no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening,” issued a statement citing the “President-elect’s history of supporting and advising Governor Blagojevich” and calling on him to “fully address the issue.” The implication: President-elect Obama is involved in some way with the Springfield scandal. And Representative Eric Cantor, the Republican House whip said, “The serious nature of the crimes listed by federal prosecutors raises questions about the interaction with Gov. Blagojevich, President-electObama and other high ranking officials who will be working for the future president.”

I don’t mean to suggest that Democrats and Republicans should hold hands and sing kubaya. The conflict between Democrats and Republicans is real and passions run deep and strong. However, the political reality is that much of the country, and arguably the part of the country that decides national elections, is tired of the old attack dog politics of Washington. The ongoing investigation will bring to light any involvement by Obama’s transition team in Governor Blagojevich’s activities, whether for good or ill. Republicans should focus on helping to fix the nation’s problems and, while keeping an eye on the investigation, let it make it’s own news.

America would would benefit from a post-partisan era, in which party matters, but country matters more. The Republican Party would benefit from such a tact, too. As the recent campaign showed, name calling and fear mongering don’t win elections. Let’s assume the initial reaction by the RNC and Rep. Cantor were simply a natural reflex they can now control. Let’s hope they don’t succumb to the old temptation of cheap shots, but instead embrace a more mature approach to politics and governing.

The truth will come out with or without old politics. But they won’t solve America’s challenges.

Obama’s Cabinet Could Use a Main Street Perspective

President-elect Barack Obama is creating a cabinet of dynamic, capable individuals. His team is devoid of “yes people.” It’s bi-partisan. It’s populated by leaders with strong opinions and a proven willingness to declare them forcefully.

President George W. Bush surrounded himself with strong personalities, too: Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld come to mind. President Bush was unable to prevent the fiefdoms these leaders created from undermining their potential. President-elect appears to have learned from his predecessor’s mistake in this regard. Consider his choice of National Security Advisor. Retired General James Jones arguably brings heft to the table equivalent to what incoming Vice President Joe Biden, incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and continuing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates bring. More significantly, President-elect Obama’s style, termperment and talent is different from those of President Bush. He’s unlikely to tolerate the dysfunction that marked the Bush Administration.

The new Cabinet is not only being populated by individuals with proven track records, but it is shaping up to be diverse, as well. There’s only one group that seems underrepresented: there doesn’t appear to be anyone with a significant business background in the mix. Those already nominated, or on the short list of those expected to be nominated, all have impressive credentials. There are Generals, Senators, Members of Congress, and Governors. Some have led huge government bureaucracies and a major university. But I’m not aware of any that has ever started a company or met a payroll.

Considering the amount of rhetoric surrounding the need to listen to Main Street during the recent campaign, this is surprising. Certainly there are business leaders or entrepreneurs who have something to contribute when it comes to shaping the nation’s future. Running a state. seving in Congress and leading troops is noble and important work. The experience and perspective gained from these activities is important and significant.

Yet it’s a limited perspective. Running a business is different. The skills and abilities are different. So are the expectations and pressures involved. The lessons learned and wisdom gained is different, too.

This is not to say that only private-sector viewpoints matter. Far from it. But those views are important and they should be part of the mix when President Obama sits down to deal with the challenges this country faces. The Wall Street-Main Street dichotomy bandied about in the campaign was somewhat superficial, but not completely. That’s why serving on corporate boards isn’t enough. Bringing into his cabinet someone who has run a business would bring an additional and important perspective to the Cabinet’s deliberations as it faces a long and deep recession.

President-elect Obama is to be commended for building a diverse team. He would do well to increase the diversity just a bit more. The challenges he faces are complex and impact every American. Even those whose lives center around neither Wall Street nor Pennsylvania Avenue. Main Street is important. It deserves a seat at the table.

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