Frank Rich’s column in today’s NYT echoes much of the liberal left’s criticism of Obama curious approach to bipartisanship, including reaching out to Republicans that have cozied up to the fringe right. Case in point Chuck Grassely of Iowa who is the designated point man on negotiating the health care bill for Senate Republicans, but has shamelessly propagated the death panel rumor.
Even now the radicals are taking a nonviolent toll on the Obama presidency. Obama complains, not without reason, that the news media, led by cable television, exaggerate the ruckus at health care events. But why does he exaggerate the legitimacy and clout of opposition members of Congress who, whether through silence or outright endorsement, are surrendering to the nuts? Even Charles Grassley, the supposedly adult Iowa Republican who is the Senate point man for his party on health care, has now capitulated to the armed fringe by publicly parroting their “pull the plug on grandma” fear-mongering.
Part of me wonders how much of this dynamic is a natural by product of a dwindling Republican party rapidly becoming a regional party with supporters who so successfully shifted the debate to the right that GOP elected officials feel as if they have no choice to not just keep up, but get out in front of the lunacy. After all, if you have a supposedly national party with no viable strategy to reach out to moderates and centrist voters and candidates, then those currently in office will constantly try to build up their street cred among the base.
Meanwhile, the political environment will continue suffer from an increase in political polarization.
Of course, Frank Rich is not alone in his frustration with the President’s approach, but there are a number of things that one has to remember about Capitol Hill. One is while Republicans during the Bush years were more than eager to move legislation with little regard to how many Democrats supported it, a handful of Democrats in the Senate today will not vote for a bill unless its a bipartisian measure. Usually, these are redstate Democrats that are hyper sensitive about being painted as raving lefties such as Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Kent Conrad of Montana, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, and Mary Landrieu of Louisana.
Many of these Democrats joined forces with the likes of Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins both from Maine, too pair down the one time $900 billion stimulus bill down to $787 billlion. In a chamber composed of 100 members you will only see these two women Republicans from Maine, who are already feeling intense pressure not to show any signs of capitulation, and maybe one more GOP Senator that will bargain with the Democrats on health care or confirming judges to the federal bench, or spending bills or a climate change and energy bill.