GOP Schools Obama on Partisanship

It is possible that President Barack
Obama genuinely believes in reaching out to Republicans or perhaps he
is just going through the motions because he knows the American people
favor bipartisanship. But he can no longer harbor any real hope that
his overtures to the GOP will bring significant votes for his policies.

On Wednesday, when the House voted on the $819 billion stimulus bill,
which many economists say is vital for the United States to avoid a
possible depression, not a single Republican supported the legislation.

The Democrats had to provide all the 244 votes that sent the package
over to the Senate, where leading Republicans, including Sen. John
McCain of Arizona, have already announced their determination to fight
the bill.

Sure there are
weaknesses in the House version - in part because Obama had Democrats
shelve some direct spending on the nation's creaky infrastructure in
favor of putting in $275 billion in tax cuts designed to win over some
Republican votes.

Still, the
bill was picked at by House Republicans who complained about some
features, like repairs to the National Mall and family-planning money.
So Obama pressured Democrats to remove those criticized items. Still
the Republican caucus voted unanimously against the bill.

This solid phalanx of GOP opposition is now the latest -- and clearest
-- evidence that the national Republicans have settled on a strategy
similar to the one the party followed after Bill Clinton took office in
1993, when the Democrats also held majorities in the House and Senate.
The Republicans sought to strangle the young Democratic administration
in the cradle.

Clinton, too,
made gestures of bipartisanship. He helped sweep several Reagan-Bush
scandals under the rug just like Obama has been signaling that he will
look forward, not backwards, about George W. Bush's abuses. But the
Republicans and their right-wing media allies responded with an all-out
war on Clinton and his mildly reformist agenda. [For details, see
Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]

Targeting Clinton

Much like Wednesday's unanimous GOP vote against Obama's stimulus
package, the Republicans in 1993 denied Clinton even one vote for his
first budget because it contained some tax increases (which later were
credited with bringing the U.S. budget nearly into balance and helping
set the stage for a broad economic expansion).

Like today, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh took the lead in
rallying Republicans into unrelenting opposition to the Democratic
administration. Day in and day out, Limbaugh regaled his huge audience
with three hours of mocking attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton, just
like today when he has announced his desire for Obama to fail.

Regarding Clinton, the Republicans stirred up harshly partisan
investigations. In early 1994, the Republicans succeeded in getting a
GOP special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, appointed to investigate
Clinton's past financial dealings. Other investigations, also under the
control of right-wing prosecutors, took aim at key members of Clinton's

In February 1994, when
I covered the annual Conservative Political Action Conference - a kind
of trade show for the Right - I was stunned by the volume of
hate-Clinton paraphernalia. Never had I seen anything like this
well-organized, well-funded determination to destroy a political figure.

As 1994 wore on, the Republicans harassed, undermined and ultimately
killed Hillary Clinton's plan for universal health care.

By November 1994, a resurgent Republican Party - energized by its
hatred of the Clintons - wrested control of Congress from the
Democrats. Limbaugh's role was viewed as so important that he was made
an honorary member of the new House Republican majority.

After those congressional victories, Republicans intensified their
assaults on Clinton. Starr expanded his investigation into Clinton's
clumsy efforts to cover up an extramarital affair with former White
House intern Monica Lewinsky. In late 1998, the Republican-controlled
House impeached Clinton, though the President mustered enough
Democratic votes to survive a trial in the Senate.

Though the Republicans failed to drive Clinton from the White House,
the impeachment battle set the stage for George W. Bush's run for
President behind the promise that he would restore "honor and dignity"
to the White House.

Campaign 2000, Clinton's Vice President Al Gore became a kind of
whipping boy for Clinton's enemies both in the political world and in
the press. Gore still clawed his way to a narrow popular-vote victory
in November 2000, but the race was close enough for five Republican
partisans on the U.S. Supreme Court to deliver the White House to Bush.

Partisan Divide

Then, despite Bush's promises to be "a uniter, not a divider," he
interpreted his tainted victory as a mandate to push through a
right-wing agenda that included steep tax cuts weighted in favor of the
wealthiest Americans, widening the deficit that had been virtually
eliminated under Clinton.

Dov. S. Zakheim, a foreign policy adviser to Bush's 2000 campaign and a
Pentagon official during his first term, later admitted in a Washington Post opinion article that Bush dropped his "compassionate conservative" mask soon after taking office.

came to a bitterly divided Washington and poured salt on partisan
wounds, culminating in an ugly divide-and-rule style of politics,"
Zakheim acknowledged.

the 9/11 attacks, when Democrats and many other Americans swore off
partisanship in the cause of national unity, Bush seized the moment to
arrogate unprecedented powers to himself. Then, in fall 2002, he
exploited America's fear and anger to push through a pre-election Iraq
War authorization and still branded the Democrats as soft on terror.

Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who had lost three limbs in the Vietnam
War, was defeated after being virtually equated with terrorist Osama
bin Laden.

By 2004, Bush and
his political guru Karl Rove had set their sights on a "permanent
Republican majority" that would relegate the Democrats to a cosmetic
appendage to the GOP's one-party state. Republicans would control all
levers of government power, including federal prosecutors and the
federal courts, and would be backed by an intimidating right-wing news

Under Bush, the only
freedom that seemed left to many Americans was the freedom to follow
him. If you didn't, you'd be labeled unpatriotic or un-American. You
might even face career punishment and physical threats, like those
meted out to the Dixie Chicks for daring to criticize Bush at a
pre-Iraq-invasion concert.

Similarly, anyone who threatened Republican electoral dominance got a
steady does of smears, like the Swift Boat attacks on Sen. John Kerry's
Vietnam War heroism. At Bush's 2004 convention, some GOP delegates wore
Purple Heart Band-Aids to mock the severity of Kerry's war wounds.

After Election 2004, with Bush gaining a second term and the
Republicans again owning both houses of Congress, Rove ally Grover
Norquist mused that Democrats should learn to get along in Washington
by becoming like castrated pets to their Republican masters.

Talking the Talk

Sometimes when Republicans faced reversals, as they did in Election
2006, they revived some talk of bipartisanship because the American
people had grown tired of the political bickering.

Yet, even if some Republicans genuinely wanted a more bipartisan
approach, such a change seemed impossible - after decades of exploiting
"wedge" tactics and relying on a right-wing media built to destroy

In recent years,
when Republicans talked about repudiating "partisan rancor" - like John
McCain did at the 2008 Republican National Convention - the rhetoric
was usually followed by another binge of partisan rancor, like Sarah
Palin's attacks on Obama for "palling around with terrorists" or
McCain's own smearing of Obama as a "socialist."

As I have written before, the idea of transforming modern Republicanism
into some less partisan form may be like trying to train a boa
constrictor which fork to use at the dinner table.

Beyond the fact that today's Republican congressional caucus has fewer
moderates than ever before, there's also the influence of the powerful
right-wing media that runs on the high-octane fuel of anti-liberal
hate. This machinery now faces a business imperative to find attack
lines that can be used to tear down Obama and build up audience share.

For instance, on Jan. 16, four days before Obama's Inauguration,
Limbaugh was publicly rooting for Obama to fall on his face. "I hope he
fails," Limbaugh bluntly declared.

A day after the Inauguration, Limbaugh expanded on his anti-Obama views.

"You know racism in this country is the exclusive problems of the Left," Limbaugh said.
"We're witnessing racism all this week that led up to the Inauguration.
We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to
bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever,
because his father was black, because this is the first black

In other words,
Limbaugh is appealing to his largely white, male audience to see itself
as the victim of some "reverse racism," with the graphic image of white
men bent over being subjected to sexual humiliation - and presumably
anal rape - by a black man.

Despite these growing signs of Republican obstructionism and sabotage,
Obama continued to pursue his goal of a post-partisan Washington. His
first post-Inaugural trip to Capitol Hill on Jan. 27 involved meetings
with House and Senate Republicans, not Democrats.

Already, Obama had devoted about one-third of the stimulus package to
tax cuts aimed at winning over some Republican votes. He weathered
Democratic complaints that the tax cuts prevented additional spending
on the nation's infrastructure, a strategy that many economists say
would generate more jobs and provide longer-term value to the nation.

Despite his concessions, Obama ended up getting whip-sawed by
Republicans who complained that the tax cuts weren't big enough and,
ironically, some joined in castigating him for shorting the
infrastructure spending. In the end, his personal appeals and his
deletions of some items opposed by Republicans still failed to secure a
single Republican vote for the House bill.

So, in a replay of 1993, the Republicans made clear with their
unanimous vote against the stimulus bill that they - like Rush Limbaugh
- are determined to see the new President fail.

Now, the question is whether Obama will give up his quixotic bid to woo
Republicans - and instead support a stimulus package that will do the
most to help the country - or whether he will continue making more
concessions to the Republicans in hopes that they will undergo a sudden

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