Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne has a certain value, not because what he writes makes much sense, but because he personifies the conventional, loyal Democrat. Thus, he sheds light on what the other side is thinking.
The main theme of today’s column is that the Republicans are trying to figure out whether and how to oppose President Obama. This is difficult, Dionne says, because Obama has subtly reached out to the other side in his uniquely bipartisan way:
When opponents of abortion rallied in Washington’s streets last week, Obama did not offer a simple restatement of his support for abortion rights. Instead, his first response to the subject as president coupled his support for legal abortion with a call for “common ground.” He urged action “to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make.”
Which is different from Bill Clinton’s “safe, legal and rare” exactly how? But here is the real stroke of Obamic genius:
The consensual tone on this divisive issue reflects intense behind-the-scenes lobbying by Obama’s religious supporters, who asked him to put off for at least a day his executive order ending the ban on federal funds for groups involved in abortions overseas. The symbolism of the delay suggested that Obama intends to continue to poach constituencies that were once reliably Republican.
Wow! If only he had put off the executive order for two days, pro-life groups would have endorsed him for re-election on the spot!
Somewhat more plausibly, Dionne thinks Republicans are in a tough spot when it comes to opposing Obama because the President’s “popularity is soaring.” What’s interesting, though, is that it isn’t. At the moment, Obama’s approval has actually dipped slightly and now stands, according to Gallup, at 67%. There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously. But it’s far from unique in our recent history.
In fact, while President Bush got off to a completely different start from Obama, with the contested 2000 election and bitter opposition from the Democrats from the beginning, as of March 2001, two months into his first term, Bush’s approval rating in the Gallup poll was 63%, not very different from Obama’s current score despite the universally fawning press coverage that Obama receives and the lack of any rancor comparable to the events of 2000. What we’re seeing, in other words, is basically business as usual.
Dionne concludes by darkly suspecting Republicans of a plot to take advantage of Obama’s failures:
The most insidious line of attack involves laying the groundwork for blaming the new president in the event of a terrorist attack.
In a remarkably partisan op-ed in The Post last Thursday, Marc A. Thiessen, who was a speechwriter for former president George W. Bush, declared flatly: “If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible — and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation.”
This is dangerous, both substantively and politically, and it suggests that some of Bush’s loyalists will continue to politicize issues related to terrorism in their efforts to vindicate the former president’s legacy.
This is too silly for words. National defense is the first responsibility of any President. If a President weakens our defenses against an enemy, and this leads to a successful attack by that enemy, the President somehow is above criticism? Absurd. And as far as “politicizing issues relating to terrorism” is concerned, why is this an offense that only Republicans can commit? When Democrats tell us ad infinitum that President Bush’s policies have made us less safe, why isn’t that “politicizing issues relating to terrorism”? When one of Obama’s first acts is to announce that Guantanamo Bay will be closed (someday, but with no idea where the detainees will then go), why isn’t that “politicizing issues relating to terrorism”?
The fact is that terrorism is the number one threat to our security. In a democracy, the question of how best to avert that threat is and must be a political issue, to the extent that the parties disagree as to the most effective approach. The Democrats have been telling us for years that a less aggressive approach to defense against terrorists will make us safer. They have run for election on that platform. If they turn out to have been wrong, they absolutely should bear the consequences.
Dionne goes so far as to suggest that it is dirty pool for the Republicans to dissent from the Democrats’ record-shattering pork-fest bill:
Both Thiessen and Hensarling reflect an important undercurrent in Republican thinking: that the GOP should place its bets on the prospect that Obama’s policies will fail, knowing that if the president succeeds, he and the Democrats are likely to gain ground no matter what Republicans do.
Earth to Dionne: the Democrats’ bill is a trillion-dollar joke. It offends every principle of good government, certainly every principle to which Republicans subscribe. There is no theory of democracy on which Republicans are required to go along with a horrible piece of legislation in order to insulate the President from the awful prospect of disagreement, or the even more awful prospect of being held responsible for being wrong.
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