If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then Barack Obama has been in the fast lane when it comes to bipartisanship. Now one year into his presidency, his near-pathological obsession with consensus has only served to resurrect a moribund GOP while leaving his agenda and his own party teetering on the brink.
It didn't have to be this way. Not if Barack Obama had understood Krugman's Law and heeded the lessons of Dick Cheney.
Listened to Cheney, that is, not on national security, but on domestic politics.
Following the disputed 2000 election, the Bush-Cheney transition team prepared to assume the White House without either a popular vote mandate or dominant majorities in Congress. But while the mainstream media consensus concluded that a "weakened" President Bush would have to govern from the center and "build bridges to the opposition," Dick Cheney had a different idea. Especially when it came to the Republican ticket's radical plan of tax cuts for the economy, Cheney insisted:
"We don't negotiate with ourselves."
As Barton Gellman details in his book, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, Dick Cheney made it abundantly clear that the Bush administration would put pedal to the metal in pursuit of its radical agenda. In a series of media appearances that December, Cheney proceeded as if the Florida recount and Bush v. Gore had never happened.
His December 3, 2000 exchange with the late Tim Russert on Meet the Press is particularly telling:
RUSSERT: Governor Bush and you campaigned on a platform of a $1.3 trillion tax cut. Now that the Senate is 50-50, Democrats-Republicans, and the Republicans control the House by eight or nine votes, won't you have to scale down your tax cut in order to pass it? [...] But, in reality, with a 50-50 Senate and a close, close, small majority in the House, you're going to have to have a moderate, mainstream, centrist governance, aren't you?
CHENEY: Oh, I think so. [...] But I think there's no reason in the world why we can't do exactly what Governor Bush campaigned on.
Two weeks later, following the controversial Supreme Court decision which made George W. Bush the 43rd President, Cheney made his case even more forcefully on Face the Nation:
"As President-elect Bush has made very clear, he ran on a particular platform that was very carefully developed. It's his program, it's his agenda, and we have no intention at all of backing off of it. It's why we got elected.
So we're going to aggressively pursue tax changes, tax reform, tax cuts, because it's important to do so. [...] The suggestion that somehow, because this was a close election, we should fundamentally change our beliefs, I just think is silly."
When Gloria Borger interrupted to object that "with all due respect, the Democrats are saying that this administration cannot proceed as the Reagan administration did, for example, with a large tax bill, because you don't have the mandate that a Ronald Reagan.," Cheney fired back:
"There is no reason in the world, and I simply don't buy the notion, that somehow we come to office now as a, quote, 'weakened president.' [...] We've got a good program, and we're going to pursue it."
Which is exactly what transpired. By May 2001, President Bush and Vice President Cheney had their $1.35 trillion tax cut, courtesy of precisely the strategy Borger ridiculed as " cherry pick[ing] one or two Democrats here and there and get them to sign on to whatever tax bill you have."
But eight years later, Barack Obama did not follow the Bush-Cheney example.
As it turned out, the deadly combination of Obama's hands-off approach to legislation and unending appeasement of Republicans determined to destroy him was both futile and counterproductive.
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