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August 11, 2009

Poisonous Partisanship

Roy Meachum

The United States Supreme Court has a new associate justice. Despite GOP hard-core opposition, Sonia Sottomeyer was sworn in the day after the Senate approved her appointment, 68-31. On Thursday, the Senate passed the “refill” of “Cash for Clunkers,” 60-37. Republicans lost both times.


On the radio Friday – I didn’t catch the name – a man identified as a former G.H.W. Bush administration official and a strong Republican said the adamant posture maintained by GOP congressional leaders could hurt his party and its influence on national affairs. His chief point on both votes was how much they cost politically: Justice Sottomayer became the first Hispanic American on the high bench, sending her fellow Latinos into joyful shouting. They are, by the way, the fastest growing minority on electoral registration lists.


“Cash for Clunkers” was overwhelming popular among people, of all political persuasions, who watched the government’s hundreds of billions flow to the financial industry. That’s how the Economic Recovery and Housing Acts were tilted in the first $300 billion handed out along Wall Street by Henry Paulson, George W. Bush’s last secretary of the Treasury. And he was right! America’s economic structure was falling apart. Different people can have different theories; they’re not relevant here. The fact existed: America was broke!


Before Barack Obama took office, Mr. Bush had already signed measures putting about $700 billion in the pipeline, primarily to financial institutions. The GOP chief executive had a choice; in the last two years of his administration; Democrats alone could not have overcome his veto.


The “housing” part of the act’s name proved false: the billions awarded banks did not trickle down to individual mortgage holders. Meanwhile, executives of the failing financial companies continued to be paid millions under so-called incentive plans. The public was astonished to discover, under Mr. Paulson’s plan, the government could do nothing to stop the golden flow, except by persuasion. Only recently has Congress given the executive branch muscle to halt the scandalous and blind behavior.


Under the given circumstances, Senate Republicans had no real hope of defeating either Ms. Sottomayer’s nomination or the additional $2 billion to back “Cash for Clunkers.” Moreover, the Democratic side gained new seats in the election, bringing their number to the “magic” 60. (Elder party statesmen Robert Byrd and Edward Kennedy’s illnesses put the “magic” into the category of illusion.)


To reach the final count on both issues some Republicans voted with the majority. Their respective names don’t matter, nor why. Their critics could cry “traitor” and allege they were being extremely selfish. The same charges apply to the hardcore. The principles of Mr. Lincoln’s party do not embrace obstructionism. The causes were lost before the floor fight began. No counter arguments really made sense to a dispassionate outsider.


It seems to me, the GOP is determined to create the ambiance of 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt captured the White House from Herbert Hoover, in the middle of the Depression’s early years. Republicans might say “socialism” led to his re-election four years later; but history records they did themselves in by alienating voters on a number of issues, including New Deal programs designed to help most Americans through the crises.


No prophet, I cannot predict how this situation will work out. But I know poisonous partisanship is not the answer.


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