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February 13, 2009

"Of the People, by the People, for the People"

Roy Meachum

Two months before Franklin Delano Roosevelt swept into the Oval Office, on a voter tidal wave, a bill was offered to the Senate that would distribute to the public one trillion dollars in "funny" money meant to disappear when the crisis was over. Supporters called it "self-liquidating, negative interest money."


Fortunately before the bill came to vote, the new president offered his New Deal. The overall program was meant to confront the Great Depression that had started three and a half years before.


The New Deal was greeted by cries of "Socialism" along Wall Street. They were ignored. When Mr. Roosevelt swore the presidential oath of office, 25 percent of the American workforce was unemployed. Former executives joined World War I veterans selling apples on corners. We could wind up in those straits again – because of rank partisanship.


Doubtless you know of right-wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh's wish that new President Barack Obama fail. In that spirit the Capitol Hill Republican minority seeks to block any comprehensive recovery effort. However, Mr. Obama got his way in both chambers in slightly different bills, which differences were ironed out.


But not a single GOP member voted for the House version, and only three senators broke away from their party. However, that was enough to silence filibusters that could sabotage the administration's attempt to move the nation out of the economic mess.


Pennsylvania's Arlen Spector kept company with Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. The New York Times quoted Senator Collins:


"'This crisis is extraordinary, and my constituents don't expect me to stay on the sidelines,” said Ms. Collins, a onetime Senate aide who easily won re-election last November in a terrible year for Republicans elsewhere. “They expect me to jump in. People don't want us to be the party that says no, just no.' "


Ms. Snowe said: "I feel the ability to bridge the divide and corral a consensus on a critical issue facing this country. This is the only option we have in the final analysis as far as a fiscal tool. We have to get it right, and we have to make it work.


Ms. Snowe and Ms. Collins became targets attacked by other GOP senators, including minority leader Mitch McConnell of Tennessee, who tempered his criticism with praise for the women's past performances. Other Republicans were adamant. In joining the chamber's Democratic majority they were traitors, not to be excused.


In Senator Collins' words, the congressional GOP members were "the party that says no, just no." They are, not subtly working very hard to make Mr. Limbaugh's wish come true. They are counting on their "no's" to give Mr. Obama a failure that converts into increasing their numbers in 2010. It's so blatantly partisan that it guarantees public sympathy-and support-for their opponents.


The three GOP dissenters, especially Ms. Collins, wound up leaders in negotiations that led to Wednesday's compromise, which touched off belly-aching from liberal Democrats along with their conservative foes across the aisle.


By choosing three Republicans for his cabinet and others for lesser posts, President Obama proves true to his campaign promise of banning partisanship from his administration. That may be what scares his critics.


He may stumble along the way, as he pointedly said several times, but Barack Obama obviously means to fulfill Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg's hope for government "of the people, by the people, and for the people."


At least he's trying.


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