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.

The Republican Dilemma: Follow Palin or Emanuel

The finger pointing within the Republican party has begun. Which is good news. The first stage is denial, but there’s no denying the repudiation the GOP has received in the past two years. They not only lost their majority in Congress, the Democrats gained impressive majorities. They not only lost the White House, they lost it big, losing states that hadn’t gone blue in decades. So that they’ve already reached the blame stage is probably a healthy step. The fun will begin when the Republicans start taking action to recover from their drubbing.

There are a host of directions the GOP can move in, but they generally fall into two categories: they can focus on their base, keeping them in line by focusing on wedge issues (e.g,. gay marriage or prayer in school). Or they can seek to expand their party to include those who may feel unwelcome in the Republican’s ever shrinking tent.

The former approach was honed by Karl Rove, but  exemplified by Governor Sarah Palin. Mr. Rove twice helped elect George W. Bush president by scaring the beejeebies out of voters. This approach is exemplified by demonizing your opponent, scaring your supporters, and diminishing civil discourse. Governor Palin took this approach when she divided the country into  “real America” versus, presumably, “unreal America.” She claimed Senator Barack Obama didn’t see America the way “you and I” do. She accused him of palling around with terrorists and claimed he was a socialist (which can be defined as someone who espouses socialistic ideas). She claimed to be doing God’s will, which, by implication means Democrats and independents who supported Senator Obama weren’t.

A leading advocate of the politics of inclusion, on the other hand, is incoming White House Chief of Staff and current Congressman Rahm Emanuel. In 2006, as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee he was relentless in recruiting candidates who could win in Republican held seats. He used no ideological litmus test, which angered many in his own party. But Congressman Emanuel recruited to win power, not debating points. Win power he did, wresting away from Republicans control of the House for the first time in 12 years even as President Bush was winning reelection.

This is not to say that ideology doesn’t matter. It matters very much. But ideology without pragmatism is a dorm argument. Once the grieving stops, Republicans will need to think seriously about the direction they intend to take. They can follow Governor Palin down the path leading to a party of ever fewer true believers. Or they can take Rep. Emanuel’s path and recruit leaders who share in the core principles of the GOP but would never be considered “pure” by the fierce core.

The Palin approach chooses to see the world as they wish it to be. The Emanuel perspective sees the world as it is. These are the views Republicans need to choose between and, for their sake, before the 2010 elections.

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