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Why Can Judd Gregg See What Obama Can’t?

Hand it to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH).  The conservative senator from the Granite State turned down an appointment to the position of President Barrack Obama’s Secretary of Commerce citing “irreconcilable differences.”

Citing the latest Senate vote on Obama’s economic stimulus package, for which Gregg voted “no,” Gregg said, “ We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.”

Truth to tell, that can be said about the entire Republican Party, in both House and Senate, which voted almost unanimously against Obama’s signature domestic effort to date to try and kick-start the economy. The House vote on the measure was completely along party lines with no defections, while in the Senate, only three liberal Republican senators voted for that chamber’s version of the $800-billion bill—but only after those three Republicans had managed to sabotage it, probably fatally, by forcing Obama and Senate Democrats to agree to making a third of the bill be in the form of meaningless and useless tax cuts, instead of programs to ease the plight of laid-off workers and people losing their homes.

The fact is, Obama and his supposedly brilliant political strategists have adopted a bone-headed approach of trying to seem “post-partisan” which has led them directly into a Republican trap on many key policy fronts. The economy is just one such area, where Republicans let Obama water down his stimulus program in an effort to woo them, and then simply voted against the package in the end.  The war in Afghanistan is another example, where Obama has been so busy buying into the right’s agenda of continued war that he is about to commit the nation to years more of expanded war in that war-torn region.  Even Obama’s cabinet picks have been terrible, made with an eye to appearing “centrist” and even Republican-friendly, with many key holdovers, like Defense Secretary Robert Gates, or appointments like Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Bush’s pick for head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, not to mention his attempt to put a Republican in as Commerce Secretary.

That last botched appointment was particularly pathetic. It had offered Obama the chance to pick up a key Democratic vote in the Senate, since if Gregg had taken the job and left his Senate seat, the Democratic governor of New Hampshire could, and surely would have appointed a Democratic replacement. But Obama, again wanting to show his post-partisanship, cut a deal with Gregg in which the governor agreed to appoint a Republican replacement.

Having seen how needing to get two Republican votes in order to avoid filibusters in the Senate on key legislation can destroy the legislation, Obama now needs to rectify this mistake.

It’s clear that, even if Obama doesn’t sink himself as he has been doing, that the Republicans are out to sabotage his presidency.  That being the case, Obama should change course immediately and develop a new strategy based upon confronting and attacking the Republicans in Congress forcibly.  One way to do that would be to name a few liberal (not Gregg-style) Republican Senators from states with Republican governors to posts in the cabinet.  Example: Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, who has served on the Senate finance committee and on a subcommittee on small business, would make an excellent commerce secretary (much better than Gregg, who at one point had called for the abolition of the department), and if appointed, could be replaced by Maine’s Democratic Governor John Baldacci with a Democratic senator. Obama could also put Gates out to pasture and name the other Maine Senator, Susan Collins, as Defense Secretary. Collins has served on both the Senate Homeland Security and Armed Services committees, and it would be a great idea to have a woman running the Defense Department. Again, Maine’s Democratic governor could replace Collins with a Democratic Senator, giving Obama 60 votes, eliminating his need to cater to that treacherous turncoat, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, who backed McCain last fall, and who renounced his Democratic Party membership after being denied the party’s nomination back in 2006. (This calculus assumes an eventual win by Democrat Al Franken in the still-unresolved Minnesota Senate race.)

Even short of enhancing the Democratic margin in the Senate, Obama could change the political climate in the Upper House by making it clear that Republicans who obstruct his agenda will be barred from having any legislation passed for the next four years.  Their bills will not get hearing, and if somehow passed, will be vetoed. He and his Democratic Party allies in the Senate, should, in other words, start treating Republicans in the Senate the way they were treated by Republicans during Bush’s presidency: as irrelevant.

Even with 57 or 58 seats, Democrats have a much stronger position in Congress today than they had when they took over the House and Senate in 2006. They also have a much stronger position than Republicans had between 2002 and 2006, too. But they, and Obama, are still acting as though they are the opposition party, not the ruling party.

If Obama wants to be a successful president, and if he hopes to be re-elected in 2012, he will need to simply run over Republican opposition in Congress and start pushing through the agenda that he was elected to promote.

Bi-partisanship, post-partisanship, or whatever caving in to forces of the thoroughly discredited right is called, is a doomed strategy. It only encourages the Republicans, like wolves pursuing a wounded elk, to move in for the kill.

Right now, the public is still blaming Bush, Cheney and the Republicans for the messes in Iraq, Afghanistan and the US economy.  But it won’t be long before all those crises will have Obama’s and the Democrats’ name on them, which is precisely the goal of the Republican policy of obstruction and sabotage.

Obama doesn’t have much time to start taking charge of this situation. A good place to start would be by calling on his Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor or two or three to start aggressively investigating the crimes of the Bush/Cheney administration, including any collusion with Republican members of Congress. Democrats in Congress, too, could get much more aggressive about their investigations in to the abuses of the last two presidential terms. That would sure signal to Republicans in Congress that he is serious, and not to be pushed around.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006, available now in paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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