After Obama held his widely (and wildly) reported luncheon with Republicans yesterday, media accounts suggested that the Great Unifier had performed an absolute miracle. Republicans emerged from the meeting beaming and offering effusive praise for the president, and Obama later invited some GOP leaders to the White House for drinks. After the GOP mocked the inclusion of funds for family planning in the stimulus package, Obama ordered (or requested) that Democrats remove the provision. But Obama's networking could not change the policy differences between Democrats and Republicans or to secure unified support for the stimulus, in spite of these differences.
ABC News reports that the stimulus will undoubtedly pass, but without much support from Republicans. I do not find this shocking or upsetting. Although contemporary Democrats have often voted against their party's professed values, earning them much criticism during the last decade, Republicans have typically supported the party line. Accordingly, I am not surprised that they have defied Obama's bipartisan gestures.
The cynic in me says that Obama probably knew he would not change their minds, but he engaged in this very public "outreach" in order to portray himself as a unifier and, possibly, to make Republicans look like sore losers for not joining the team. Also, he clearly does not need GOP support for the legislation to pass. If Republicans support him, however, they could lose some credibility if they subsequently tried to criticize the legislation. If the stimulus helps the economy, then the GOP will look bad for not supporting "sound economic policy." But now that Republicans have said they will not support the legislation, I wonder whether a bold Democrat try to reinsert the family planning elements.
Regardless of the underlying motives and risks, the partisan split reminds me of one of the funniest moments during the Democratic primaries, when Hillary Clinton challenged Obama's frequent assertion that he would bring about a "new" politics of bipartisanship and unity, while she was too "divisive" and could only offer "more of the same." I have posted a video clip of Clinton's controversial stump speech. Enjoy.
[Editor's Note: Beware of the CNN pundits!]