The Blog

Obama's Greatest Weakness: Too Darn Bipartisan

11:15 AM, Feb 13, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Back in January of last year, as the Democratic primary was just heating up, the candidates gathered in Nevada for a debate hosted by Tim Russert. Russert asked the candidates to tell the audience about what they perceived as their own greatest strengths and weaknesses. John Edwards, whose real weakness has since been revealed, answering then that he "sometimes [has] a very powerful emotional response to pain that I see around me." I'm reminded of that as the Obama administration tries to explain why the stimulus met with such unexpected resistance in Congress.

Meeting with reporters Thursday night, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said that there were times during the stimulus debate when "I don't think we were sharp about the benefits" of the legislation, letting Washington process dominate the message.

Reflecting as "somebody who has been in this town," he observed that "there's an insatiable appetite for the notion of bipartisanship here and we allowed that to get ahead of ourselves."

But Emanuel said that they recognized they had overdone their initial outreach to Republicans and had offered "a sharp message for the last week."

For now, the hard-charging chief of staff added, "He has an open hand, but he has a very firm handshake."

Translation: Yes, the president will continue to do obligatory outreach to the GOP, but he's not going to be burned again by an out-of-power and toothless minority for the sake of appearances.

The last time the Obama team was talking about open hands and clenched fists the comments were directed at "those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent." Rahm should be careful lest he leave Republicans with the impression that the administration views them the same way it views foreign despots, and to be handled with a similar approach. But is it true that the stimulus got bogged down by Obama's unrequited attempts at bipartisanship, or does some of the blame lay with the White House decision to let Congressional Democrats craft a really bad piece of legislation with no input from Republicans and little stimulative potential. How does the Obama White House explain the market's reaction to the stimulus? Are they just not selling the bill right to Wall Street as well?