Here we are again. The question has been asked in one form or another since the early days of the campaign. Did the answer change and I missed it? I think not. E. J. Dionne, Jr. in his column in today's Washington Post entitledBipartisanship at What Price? asks it again. Has the man ever played poker? The present situation is as much like a really good game of poker as anything else I can compare it with. I used to play with a group of co-workers from the Medical College of Virginia when I was teaching full time in the Medical School. I loved a version of "High-Low" where you turned over most of your seven cards one at a time after arranging them in an order that allowed maximum bluffing opportunity. I won quite a bit over time because I had a good scheme for bluffing. Look below the break and let's see what Mr. Dionne has to say.
He starts out like this:
The coming week will test the strength of President Obama and the Democrats: Will they lose their nerve, or will they face down a rapidly forming conventional wisdom that would allow them to claim victory only if their economic stimulus package passes with substantial Republican support?
Now doesn't that seem like a poker scenario? All through the campaign, every time Obama did something to try to bring about the change he talked about in so much detail and with so much fervor, the audience (us, for example) went into a frenzy of activity. Some stood behind him, understanding that change meant giving some things up. Others raked him over the coals because we were about to get power and he was willing to try to share it with them.
They go on behaving like they did before and we see pages and pages written about that. What was supposed to happen? You loose a poker hand so you give up in all the ones that follow? But they use the same....
Of course, it is the same deck of cards. It is the American political system with the same Constitution, etc., etc. Look at this analysis by Mr. Dionne:
Up to now, Obama has handled his presidential image with the same dexterity he showed as a candidate. His outreach to Republicans has been popular because a streak of anti-partisanship has run through the American soul since the founding of the republic. From the moment he announced his candidacy, Obama has broadened his appeal by speaking to this mistrust of parties.
The president's quest for a new tone in Washington also has a practical motive. He believes that economic recovery is about psychology as well as money and that Americans will have more confidence in the future if they see the nation's politicians cooperating to resolve the crisis.
This may be true, but it creates a problem. If achieving bipartisanship takes priority over the actual content of policy, Republicans are handed a powerful weapon. In theory, they can keep moving the bipartisan bar indefinitely. And each concession to their sensibilities threatens the solidarity in the president's own camp.
Yes, but that seems to cast Obama in the role of something close to an idiot. There are a lot of other possible outcomes. One big one is that people will be turned on by a new, cooperative process where both sides look beyond their pet "content of policy". In fact if a new process that goes beyond the strict adherence to the content of policies allows us to focus on the process, the real engine of change, the policies will eventually follow. They could use that idea to advantage in Gaza too among other places. I'm going to jump ahead to the end of Mr. Dionne's article. You can use the link to get the rest:
No doubt our supremely calm president is certain that, in the end, all will be well. But Rahm Emanuel, his spirited chief of staff, had it right: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Just how high a price is Obama willing to pay for a handful of Republican votes?
Mr Dionne, if that is how you see what is happening, I'd really like to play poker with you. "A handful of republican votes?" I see that handful of votes as a crack in the dike of potentially major significance. Here's the other side of the bluff, Mr. Dionne: Imagine a republican party that can not break free from the monolithic, mindless discipline we saw during the past eight years. What will they ever hope to accomplish? No sir, if they begin to use their judgement and do what is good for the country, their party will grow, not diminish. I can say the same for the democrats too. I voted for Obama because I believed him when he said it was time to stop the partisan suicide the country was committing.