Many journalists and pundits have reached one very early verdict about the Obama White House: The new president has not lived up to his campaign rhetoric when it comes to reaching out to Republican lawmakers. The evidence? Not a single Republican voted in favor of the White House-backed economic stimulus bill.
Given the concessions made to Republican critics, as well as the high-profile meetings Obama conducted with top Republicans, it’s curious that the failure would be portrayed as Obama’s. As Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne put it (2/2/09), “What should have been hailed as an administration victory was cast in large parts of the media as a kind of defeat: Obama had placed a heavy emphasis on bipartisanship, and he failed to achieve it.”
This media line Dionne was describing seemed particularly popular among CNN reporters:
But such warnings were certainly not limited to CNN. Time‘s Mark Halperin explained on MSNBC (1/29/09):
Halperin added that Obama had other options:
The Washington Post editorial page strove to be somewhat even-handed (2/1/09), but ended up making a confusing argument:
Note that when Obama changes the bill to respond to Republican complaints and Republicans still refuse to vote for it, it’s an example of Obama not being “bipartisan,” because he was “too late.”
The Post‘s David Broder, long a champion of centrism and bipartisanship (Extra!, 11-12/94), contrasted Obama’s approach with Reagan’s (2/1/09):
The first way leads to long-term success; the second foretells the early loss of control.
This vote will set a pattern for Obama, one way or the other. He needs a bipartisan majority because, tough as this issue is, harder ones await when he turns to energy, healthcare and entitlement reform.
Broder seems uninterested in what kind of policy is enacted, so long as it’s “bipartisan.” But there is no reason to believe bipartisanship in itself produces better legislation–though it remains an article of faith in the corporate media. Conservatives like Fox News Channel‘s Fred Barnes put it bluntly (1/28/09):
While it’s true that Obama promised an era of bipartisanship (which is, of course, not exactly a novel idea), it did not mean that Republican politicians would stop being Republican politicians who disagree with the opposing party. What the media are essentially arguing is that Obama move to the right–a consistent refrain of the corporate media (Extra!, 7-8/06).