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Political Physics: Is Obama Flunking Post-Partisanship 101?


a blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

democratsrepublicansOver the last few weeks, I have found myself in several debates with friends and colleagues about what Obama means when he says that he is going to attempt to run his White House in a “post-partisan” fashion.   If you listen to some members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, “post-partisan” is directly equivalent to Obama’s ability to drum up support for his economic stimulus bill.  And if that is the measure, then judging by the Republican response in the House, his grade so far is an “F.”

During the presidential campaign, Obama presented himself as a “post-partisan” figure. He promised to bridge barriers — not just barriers of race and culture, but also ideology and party.  It wasn’t exactly clear then what Obama’s postpartisanship would mean in practice, but a picture is now emerging.

Obama spent an entire day on Capitol Hill discussing his proposed economic stimulus bill with Senate and House Republicans.  Yet, not a single House Republican voted in favor of the bill.

And according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein, who has spent his career analyzing the corrosive effects of partisanship in

Washington, the promise of “post-partisanship,” is nothing new and failure is not surprising.  “There was Richard Nixon, whose slogan was ‘bring us together.’ Gerald Ford promised an era of ‘compromise, conciliation and cooperation.’ George H.W. Bush was ‘kinder and gentler,’ and George W. Bush wanted to ‘change the tone.’ But nothing really changed in Washington.”

Today as Senate began consideration of the economic recovery legislation, Republicans are renewing their opposition to the legislation in its current form.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it very clear that Republicans believe several changes are needed.  McConnell said, “We look forward to offering amendments to improve this critical legislation and move it back to the package President Obama originally proposed – 40 percent tax relief, no wasteful spending and a bipartisan approach.”

Clearly, the economic stimulus bill as it currently stands faces significant opposition in the Senate and Obama may not get the bipartisan support that he had hoped for.

So, is Obama already failing at being “post-partisan?”

I think it depends on how you measure success.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, Americans are relatively happy with the first round of decisions Obama has made in his short two-week tenure as President.  “While the public has not supported everything Obama has done in his presidency thus far, he continues to receive strong overall job approval ratings around 66%.”  Now to put that into historical context: that 66% approval rating ranks Obama near the top of the list of presidents elected after World War II.  In fact, only JFK at 72% in 1961 had a higher initial approval rating.

Now like most marriages in the first year, Obama is benefitting from that “honeymoon” period, however the numbers still tell a story about the popularity of this President particularly across party lines.  Even across party lines – Obama has a 88% approval rating among Democrats, 62% approval rating among Independents and 43% approval rating among Republicans – America seems to be giving their President a “thumbs up!”

So does Obama get a passing grade when it comes to “post-partisanship?”

I think it is still too early to tell.

Will he get the Republican support for his economic stimulus bill that he had hoped for?

Probably not.

But the real question is, with a President whose overall approval rating is 66% and 43% among Republicans, who will that hurt more – Obama or the Republican Party?

. photo credit: Lori Spindler