Gregg’s Withdrawal Symbolizes GOP’s Inability to Play Nice

Posted February 13, 2009 at 5:21pm

When it comes to bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill and, for that matter, elsewhere, it looks like we’re off to a bad start.

[IMGCAP(1)]Honestly, I never expected the Republicans to get on board with bipartisanship. Not many of those who came in during former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga.) 1994 “revolution” approached politics that way. Republicans elected since then have not tried very hard to change that mindset. Partisanship appeals to them, and it will be tough for Democrats to abandon their own core principles and the people who elected them just to appease a recalcitrant opposition.

Even with two consecutive elections that increased their majority and decimated the GOP, it’s naive for Democrats to believe that Republicans would go along to get along. It’s just not in their DNA. Case in point: Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

As President Barack Obama was talking to workers at a Caterpillar plant in Peoria, Ill., Gregg went before the television cameras to withdraw himself from consideration to be secretary of Commerce. If this were a sincere act of conscience, I can’t fault the man. If he had submitted his name for consideration for the Cabinet position with the best of intentions, eager to seek common ground for the common good, and truly found himself thwarted by “irresolvable conflicts,” I can’t criticize his decision.

But I’m beginning to think this might have been a calculated decision designed to embarrass the president at a time when many of Gregg’s Senate colleagues were denouncing him in private for not taking a stand on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

If that’s the case, then Gregg should be ashamed of himself. He should be ashamed that instead of rolling up his sleeves and helping his president during this time of national crisis, he has chosen to return to his Senate foxhole, where he can safely whine and growl and throw stones.

As Momma used to tell me, you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem, and Gregg has chosen the latter. He chose partisanship over playing the role of statesman and problem-solver.

Democrats are looking on in dismay at the way in which the Republicans have charted their path out of the political wilderness. First, as newly elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele warned, Republicans want “those who wish to obstruct” to be “ready to get knocked over.” Then, newly elected National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) boastfully cited the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan as the new model for Republican behavior in the House of Representatives.

It’s as though the GOP leadership is competing to be “America’s Next Top Roadblock to Progress.” Members of the loyal opposition, with all due respect, that’s one award you don’t want to win.

How has it gotten so heated so quickly? Come on, the American people are too smart to buy the GOP’s “the mean old House Speaker and Majority Leader made me do it” argument. Not when they are hearing and seeing the president doing his best to charm and cajole them to the bipartisan table, where they can compromise and work toward the common good.

Listening to the Republicans belittle the stimulus bill Friday was downright frightening. It was hard to fathom how they could be so willfully out of touch, so brazen in their zeal to score points and portray themselves as holier than thou in fiscal responsibility during a crisis that their party’s policies and administration created. Talk about hypocrisy!

It takes time to ramp up to this level of acrimony, and it’s the type of rhetoric that I would have expected from an embattled minority trying to resist being steamrolled after years of pitched fighting with an aggressive administration. But they hit this fevered pitch within the first three weeks of Obama’s presidency.

Right off the bat, the Republican leadership positioned itself at odds with the new administration by complaining about Democrats blocking their amendments and alternative plans. Fair enough. Even some Democrats had legitimate concerns about some of the alternatives being offered up because they seemed to be more of the same. And, if truth be told, responsible leaders on both sides, along with the administration, ended up cutting provisions that were neither an investment in the future nor anything that would help people right now.

Obama’s first 100 days are supposed to be the equivalent of a honeymoon, but these political newlyweds are already fighting like there’s a hot nanny and a husband with a guilty look.

Republicans need to realize that if they pitch in and help find solutions, the glow of progress will fall on them as well as the new administration. But if they get in the way, they will find themselves back in the proverbial wilderness. Maybe Valentine’s Day can inspire them toward true bipartisanship. It’s not just about trust, it is also about reconciliation that is only possible when both sides respect the other’s core values.

In the midst of our current economic crisis, petty partisanship isn’t a poisoned valentine — it borders on unpatriotic.

Roses are red, violets are blue.

When it comes to bipartisanship, Mr. President,

It will take more work, more charm/

To get the GOP to stand with you.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.