Friday, February 13, 2009

President Icarus Declares Beltway Honeymoon Over

Through his White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, who once sent a political opponent a dead fish by mail, President Barack Obama is signaling that the bipartisan honeymoon is over, according to a story in Politico.

It did not take long for Obama to figure out that bipartisanship is overrated, particularly when one is the titular head of a party that controls congress. It was the stimulus package that tipped the scales.

“Meeting with reporters Thursday night, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said that there were times during the stimulus debate when ‘I don’t think we were sharp about the benefits’ of the legislation, letting Washington process dominate the message.

“Reflecting as ‘somebody who has been in this town,’ he observed that ‘there’s an insatiable appetite for the notion of bipartisanship here and we allowed that to get ahead of ourselves.’

“But Emanuel said that they recognized they had overdone their initial outreach to Republicans and had offered ‘a sharp message for the last week.’

“For now, the hard-charging chief of staff added, ‘He has an open hand, but he has a very firm handshake.’

“Translation: Yes, the president will continue to do obligatory outreach to the GOP, but he’s not going to be burned again by an out-of-power and toothless minority for the sake of appearances."
The stiff arm to Republicans should prepare the Obama administration for upcoming struggles.

The Obama adminstration plans a review of Iraq and Afghanistan policies. Other items on its plate, Emanuel said, are financial regulation, housing, stem cell research, renewable standards on energy and year one action on health care.

Rather than diddle with Republicans and Democrats in the beltway who are apparently bogged down in the fever swamps of ideology, Obama plans to sell his programs to the country at large.

“Implicit in Obama’s lessons-learned appraisal from the stimulus battle is also a new realism about his own party. His initial decision to give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the liberal House Democratic caucus so much leeway in drafting the stimulus bill allowed Obama to be tarred with some of the most controversial items in the package. Going on the road means he is able to soar over Pelosi’s head as well as Republicans.”

One thinks of Icarus, stretching his wings. Or one thinks of Gore Vidal's description of the arrival of the Kennedy clan in Washington at the beginning of JFK's reign: "It was like watching the mob desend upon a small northern Italian town."

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