Sheryl Gay Stolberg had an article in today’s Seattle Times entitled Obama’s agenda sails into head wind. Most of the article involved speculation about how Obama will run his administration and how much real cooperation there will actually be between Democrats and Republicans as the new President attempts to address problems where he has strong differences with the ideologically-driven Republican right wing.
What caught my eye in the article was a statement near the end:
[Obama’s] ability to bring Democrats and Republicans together will be the first major test of his presidency.
That test began Friday, in the White House Roosevelt Room, where he tried to bring House Republicans on board.
In a polite but pointed exchange with the No. 2 House Republican leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, of Virginia, Obama took note of the parties’ fundamental differences on tax policy toward low-wage workers, and he insisted his view would prevail.
At issue is Obama’s proposal that his tax breaks for low- and middle-income workers be refundable so the benefits also go to workers who earn too little to pay income taxes but who pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. Republicans generally oppose giving such refunds to people who pay no income taxes, a view that Cantor voiced at the White House meeting with Obama.
“We just have a difference here, and I’m president,” Obama said to Cantor, according to Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, who was at the meeting. Emanuel said Obama was being lighthearted and lawmakers of both parties had laughed.
Cantor, in an interview afterward, had a similar recollection. He said the president had told him, “You’re correct, there’s a philosophical difference, but I won, so we’re going to prevail on that.”
“There was no disrespect, but it was very matter-of-fact.”
“I won, so we’re going to prevail on that.”
Those are precisely the sort of words that I want to hear coming out of President Obama’s mouth. “Bipartisanship” has been a badly abused term. Under George W. Bush it was a piece of meaningless rhetoric. Until the 2006 mid-term election, in particular, the Republicans ignored the Democrats, rarely consulting with them on legislation, preferring instead, whenever possible to ram through their own agenda uncompromised. Even after 2006, Republican bipartisanship consisted mostly of trying to drive a wedge between factions within the Democratic Party in order to block the passage of Democratic sponsored legislation.
I believe that President Obama is serious about attempting to negotiate in good faith with his opponents. He has a long history of doing just that dating back to his days as a community organizer. I also believe that he understands where the power lies and that, whenever he holds the upper hand he intends to have his way, particularly on questions that he sees as vital. One of the advantages of the transparency that Obama insists on is that it will be much more difficult for the Republicans to negotiate in bad faith in the hope that both parties will be seen as equally responsible for the failure to reach agreement on vital issues. An open political process will make it much easier for the American public to see who is holding up needed legislation.
It is urgent that Obama bring the same “we will prevail” attitude to the battle against global warming. If he can convince Republicans to sign on to his plans, so much the better, but if he can’t, well, too bad for them. As all of us involved in the struggle to bring Climaticide to the forefront of the public consciousness and to the top our nation’s political agenda know, time is running out and there is no negotiating with the laws of nature.
When Obama won, we won, and we will prevail.