- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Within minutes of the U.S. House of Representatives voting along largely partisan lines (244-to-188) for the passage of the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” I received the following e-mail from a prominent Republican operative. “I am curious why the president did not call for more compromise on the stimulus bill after saying he wanted to pass the bill on a bipartisan basis. There were so many areas he could have made changes. I hope this is not a sign of things to come.”

OK, here is my question. When will Republicans, who, having controlled the White House since 2001 and the Congress from 1995 to 2007, bequeathed this mess to the new Democratic president, accept President Barack Obama’s invitation to roll up their sleeves and join him in getting the nation’s economy back on track?

Mr. Obama is more than just interested in meeting with the loyal opposition and listening to their ideas, should they have any to offer. This president actually wants Republicans in the room when important legislation is being discussed, debated and drafted. Addressing their concerns and disagreements about one of the nation’s boldest economic-recovery programs in more than a half-century may just make it stronger and better legislation. Strange, isn’t it? Welcome to the new politics. And it is a good thing.

So how can Mr. Obama achieve his goal of bipartisan participation without feeding the GOP’s fantasy that Republicans are still in charge?

Mr. Obama called on every Republican in the House prior to taking the oath of office. He held bipartisan, bicameral meetings to discuss the stimulus package in detail. Prior to the final vote, he drove from the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol and spent more than three hours discussing the stimulus plan with congressional Republicans. Yet, even before Mr. Obama’s motorcade left the White House, Republicans gleefully proclaimed their close-mindedness to the world: “Just say no!”

Just say “no” to more than 200,000 Americans who lost their jobs last month? Just say no to millions of families losing their homes? Is that what our government should tell formerly retired seniors now punching a timecard for minimum wage at the local mall to make ends meet?

“No, we can’t” is the new GOP rallying cry. No matter how many times Mr. Obama meets with House and Senate Republicans, no matter how much he extends the proverbial olive branch, too many, if not all, congressional Republicans appear to share Rush “No, We Can’t” Limbaugh’s twisted prayer: “I hope he fails.”

How dare he? How dare anyone hope that our country fails? Most Americans, including Democrats and Independents, would have been thrilled, giddy, proud and euphoric if former President Bush had fixed our nation’s problems instead of creating more. Now, right now, we must all ask ourselves: Should partisanship be allowed to trump patriotism?

The short answer is, of course, no. This doesn’t mean Republicans can’t embrace their principles and stand firm against policies that oppose their core values and beliefs. But given the enormity and the multitude of crises facing our nation on almost every front, we simply cannot afford partisan politics. Period.

One of my neighbors, Neil, a good soul, pulled me aside recently to try to help me sort through the latest political news. “President Obama is moving debates from a policy of destroying your opponent’s competence and patriotism for partisan gain to having strong debates based on mutual respect for the other party, its members and motivations.” Can the Republicans find it in their souls - not dogma - to really become truly bipartisan or will they opt to just give the country more of the same?

Over the last two decades, our country has searched for leaders to unite us as one people. All too often, we’ve been forced to settle for ambitious political hacks eager to exploit our racial, sexual and cultural differences, twisting them into divisive partisanship for political gain. This created the so-called red state-blue state divide. And it’s the reason 40 percent of voters nationwide changed their party affiliation to Independent.

As a nation, we’ve paid a dear price for hyper-partisanship. As Neil wrote me the other day while he sat in his local Starbucks listening to employees lament their future, we have allowed petty political divisiveness to fray and tatter our common bonds.

A few days after the Inauguration, my CNN colleague and conservative radio talk-show host Bill Bennett and I sat across from each other in the studio. Bill talked about the people who came up to him during the Inauguration, asking for his autograph and a picture. Before John King, CNN’s Sunday anchor, had time to bid us farewell, something deep inside propelled me to reach out for Bill’s hand and say, “I would have taken a picture with you, too.”

Last year’s election was not only about change for the sake of unity. It was about a change in spirit in how we view each other, as well. Let every American from every point of the political spectrum wish the very best for our nation and new president.

Donna Brazile is a nationally syndicated columnist, a political commentator on CNN, ABC and National Public Radio and the former campaign manager for Al Gore.


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