Today's lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye this morning, reminding me of a famous French proverb that should be kept close at hand over the next four years: "Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose". Translated: "The more things change, the more they stay the same." It sure didn't take long for Barack Obama to answer one of the compelling questions that I repeatedly raised during his campaign: will he be the "post-partisan" candidate that he promised to be? Or will he be the highly partisan politician he proved himself to be in the United States Senate?
The answer to this has come early in week #2 of his term, when he decided to ram the economic stimulus through the House of Representatives on purely partisan lines -- bowing to Nancy Pelosi in the process. As the Journal reports:
Barack Obama promised to end the "politics of division," unite Washington's factions and overcome partisanship. And what do you know -- so far he has: The President's stimulus plan generated bipartisan House opposition, with every Republican and 11 Democrats voting against it on Wednesday. It passed 244-188. The political class is feigning shock that Mr. Obama's stylistic olive branches to the GOP -- cocktail hour at the White House, cutting a line item for shrubbery on the National Mall -- failed to peel off even a single vote across the aisle. The chatter is that Republicans were taking a great political risk to oppose a President with 70%-plus approval ratings on his first piece of legislation. But the real risk here is to Mr. Obama, and it isn't from Republicans. It's from his fellow Democrats. Given the miserable economy and the Beltway's neo-Keynesian policy consensus, a true compromise would have gathered overwhelming support. But rather than use Mr. Obama's political capital to craft such a deal, the White House abdicated to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. House Democrats proceeded to ignore all GOP suggestions as they wrote the bill, shedding tax cuts while piling on spending for every imaginable interest group. The bipartisan opposition reflects how much the Pelosi bill became a vehicle for partisan social policy rather than economic stimulus.
Genuine bipartisanship means compromises on policy, not photo-ops and hand shakes. The last two Democratic Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, also came to power with big Democratic majorities in Congress, veered far to the left on policy, and quickly came undone. To adapt White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's now famous line, a 70% approval rating is a terrible thing to waste on the ideas of Henry Waxman and Pete Stark.
One of my biggest fears about Barack Obama was that he would not be strong enough to stand up to the far-left partisans of his own party, and would be bullied into following the ideologues into a standard liberal abyss -- filled with the kind of redistributive social policies that brought us the Great Society and other expansive social progams. Given the unprecedented recent expansion of the government into our economy, with tax payers spending trillions on bail-outs and flame-outs, the hope was the Obama would be able to put pragmatism over politics on managing the public's interest. So much for "hope" and "change".
Of course, "change" was always an ill-defined bromide, capable of allowing the Obama campaign to create a narrative that had almost nothing of substance underneath it. It was the perfect vessel for this candidate, who gave people hope without telling them what specifically he was going to do to make such lofty ideas and goals a reality. And now we know that for all the rhetoric, the reality is something we've seen before: old style partisan politics with big government aspirations.
Change we can believe in, mon ami.