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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 17, 2010

Snap back at GOP sniping

By Jules Witcover

Ever since Barack Obama assumed the presidency just days short of a year ago, his administration's marching orders have been to seek bipartisanship. A substantial part of his instructions has been to look ahead, not back, in striving to move the country in that direction.

In so saying, Obama dashed cold water on the zeal of many fellow Democrats to revisit the previous eight years under a Republican president, and particularly that predecessor's radical foreign policy that plunged the country into a diversionary and unnecessary war in Iraq.

But a backward look would also remind us that George W. Bush in 2001 inherited a tidy $236 billion surplus in the federal budget, which he built into a $1.3 trillion deficit to leave on Obama's doorstep.

If turning the other cheek was part of the new administration's hopes to achieve a modicum of support from the Republicans in Congress, it was quickly shown to be a futile effort. The GOP ranks on Capitol Hill immediately started marching in lockstep against Obama's agenda, and essentially have never halted.

The Republicans, since the first days of the Obama presidency, have thumbed a collective nose at his naive bipartisan dreams. This has been especially so in the Senate, where they have threatened filibuster against virtually every key Obama initiative, forcing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to scratch for 60 Democratic votes each time.

Finally, apparently, the snub has become too much for Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod. In a rare editorial mano a mano of political gurus, on Friday he took Republican counterpart Karl Rove for a stroll down the forbidden memory lane.

A few days earlier, Rove had written in the Washington Post that the Democratic majority in Congress would "run up more debt by October than Bush did in eight years."

Axelrod replied in the same newspaper that Rove was all wet, noting the deficit that Rove's boss had unloaded on Obama by the end of the Bush-Rove era.

Not only that, Axelrod wrote, "the Bush administration passed two major tax cuts skewed to the wealthiest Americans, enacted a costly Medicare prescription-drug benefit and waged two wars, without paying a penny for any of it."

He went on: "To put the breathtaking scope of this irresponsibility in perspective, the Bush administration's swing from surpluses to deficits added more debt in its eight years than all the previous administrations in the history of our republic combined."

For once, the message master of the Obama team was violating its own message to the faithful not to waste time reminding voters of Bush's past sins.

It's all well and good, as in the old Johnny Mercer lyric, to accentuate the positive, but politically it's often unwise to eliminate the negative, when retelling it explains so much about the deep hole Obama has been obliged to dig himself out of over the last year.

As Axelrod reminded readers in his rebuttal of Rove, it was Bush, not Obama, "who signed into law the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout for banks" required to rescue Wall Street and the American economy in the wake of failed regulation of the financial industry.

Obama has been scrambling ever since in the wake of mounting Tea Party protests against the bailouts and scandalous executive bonuses on Wall Street, now entering a second round of obscenities.

Only the other day, Obama proposed a new tax on the industry that was the heaviest recipient of TARP bailouts until, as he put it, the American people get back "every single dime" they shelled out, something that could take 10 or 12 years.

What happened in the eight years before Obama moved into the White House has held him and his agenda hostage on several fronts.

It has been political folly for his administration not to remind voters of that fact, especially as the November congressional elections could cost him the majority he needs to move that agenda forward.