Sunday, November 22, 2009

So Far, So Good

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on December 4th 2008 in Metro √Čireann By Charles Laffiteau

Since it looks like my Cabinet predictions regarding the players in the incoming Obama administration came pretty close to the mark, today I want to discuss their implications for the Obama presidency as well as my dear “old” Republican Party.
Some of my Republican cohorts believe I was just another one of those poor souls who fell under Obama’s spell after drinking some Obama “kool-aid”. But when it comes to my country and domestic politics, I have always been a cold eyed realist. As such I am not given to dreamy visions of great things coming to pass as the result of the election of any one individual or the ascension to power of any political party.
The fact of the matter is, I spend very little time celebrating the triumphs of those I have supported politically because I have this annoying habit of immediately beginning to worry about what mistakes they are going to make and how soon they will make them. As a natural optimist, I know this may strike some people as being a somewhat cynical outlook, but it is nonetheless an attitude about American politics that has evolved over the years based on my past experience and many political disappointments. So ever since Obama’s election on 4 November, I have been closely watching the Obama Presidential transition and the Cabinet choices Obama is making for signs of impending problems.
In what I hope is a good sign for the future of the United States, I must confess that I have thus far been unable to find any fault with Obama’s decisions about who he plans to place in positions of power within his Presidential administration. In a notable departure from past Republican and Democratic administrations, Obama isn’t just giving jobs to his friends and political hacks from his party or the special interest groups that supported him. Not since the pre-Civil War day’s selection of William Seward by Abraham Lincoln, has a US President been so bold as to offer an important and highly visible Cabinet position like Secretary of State to his most bitter political rival.
While Obama’s unexpected courtship and selection of Hillary Clinton to be America’s top foreign policy official has been hailed by some as a shrewd political move to neutralize his top political opponent, I suspect it is more than just a savvy political decision. Let’s face it, unlike Lincoln’s pick of Seward; Hillary Clinton also brings a former President named Bill Clinton and all the attendant Clinton baggage with her as well. So I believe picking Clinton for this particular post is actually a clear demonstration of Obama’s confidence in himself as President and his commitment to surround himself with strong, smart political personalities who won’t hesitate to disagree with him.
Given the myriad of complex foreign and domestic crises the US is currently facing, the incoming President will need the best and brightest of its politicians and policy wonks to effectively deal with America’s problems. Some of my Republican colleagues have cynically noted that Obama has been picking the same old Washington DC “insiders” to help him govern instead of the outsiders one would expect from a President who promised he would change the way the US Federal Government operates.
Maybe I’m wrong and they will prove to be correct in this assessment. But I would counter with the argument that these experienced Washington hands are also more likely to get the new legislation the US needs to address its problems passed in Congress than outsiders unfamiliar with the way business gets done in our nation’s capital. Unfortunately many American’s, including those Republican’s who are so enamored of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, cling to the romantic notion that you need inexperienced fresh faces in Washington to shake things up and move the country forward.
They forget that President’s Carter and Clinton went that route and failed miserably while consummate Washington insiders like President’s Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon got landmark Civil Rights and Environmental Protection laws passed. Unlike President Clinton, Obama has decided that Tom Daschle will be both his Secretary of Health and Human Services as well as his White House health “czar”, a strategy that will avoid potential conflicts and ensure something gets done in this policy arena. Unlike President Bush, Obama is also bringing the brightest of both his personal friends and Washington insiders into his administration instead of a bunch of old buddies whose most outstanding qualities were their years of loyalty to him or partisan Republican ideology.
Thus far, none of Obama’s choices have been individuals who are considered overly partisan by most knowledgeable Republicans. People like Rahm Emanuel and Phil Schiliro have demonstrated expertise developing pragmatic solutions to address problems as well as the steps necessary to win support for them from opponents across the aisle. Indeed, they and the other open minded Washington insiders Obama has picked, like Peter Orzag as Budget Director and Eric Holder as Attorney General, are respected by Republicans and Democrats alike for their practicality, professionalism and honesty.
The dilemma for the Republican Party is going to be coming up with viable alternatives to the legislative solutions Obama’s experienced Washington insiders will be proposing in the very near future. But the Republican Party currently lacks leaders who can articulate a vision that addresses America’s foreign and domestic problems that is also significantly different than the failed policies of President Bush as well as those being proposed by President-elect Barack Obama.
While I am encouraged by what I have seen from President-elect Obama so far, I am under no illusions that he and his team have all the answers. In the long run I believe the interests of the American people are best served if President Obama and the Democratic Party have a strong Republican opposition party in Congress to prevent them from over-reaching in their attempts to fix the problems the US is facing. So next week I’ll discuss the Republican Party’s prospects in 2010 and beyond.

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