Daily Beast columnist and television commentator Robert Shrum says the Republican Party is in dire straits and might have to bring back Newt Gingrich. The Democratic genius shares the history of constructive opposition to sitting Presidents and contrasts it with the 'take no prisoners' approach in the House.
Here are some excerpts from Shrum's column:
In reality, things don't work out that way—and they certainly aren't now. In fact, the Tea-fueled Republican resistance to Obama's approach is both consistent with history, and dangerously ahistorical.
First, the consistency: political parties don't surrender core positions just because their presidential nominee finished behind, sometimes far behind, in the electoral college.
After Richard Nixon carried 49 states in 1972, Democrats continued to press for a definitive end to the Vietnam War—and Congress ultimately defied the impeached and disgraced president's successor Gerald Ford and their mutual secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, by refusing a request for last-minute arms and air cover for the South Vietnamese regime. Senator Jacob Javits, a Republican but a long time doubter about the war, was blunt: Congress would "provide large sums for evacuation, but not one nickel for military aid." A conflict that never should've been fought was finally over.
The examples here are legion, for both Democratic and Republican presidents, and whether their elections were close calls or landslides. John F. Kennedy ran on Medicare in 1960—it was a central difference between him and Nixon—and then against fierce opposition, lost the bill in the Senate by four votes. In 1994, Bill Clinton's health-care reform, a hallmark promise of his campaign, never even reached the floor of either house of Congress. George W. Bush claimed a mandate after 2004, and then promptly saw Democrats decimate his proposal to privatize Social Security. After Hurricane Katrina, he couldn't pass a single major piece of legislation or stem the tide of hostility to the Iraq War—that became a driving force of the campaign of the young senator who would succeed him.
So the resistance Obama faces today is not unusual, even if it is unusually bitter. What is fundamentally ahistorical is the GOP's utter unwillingness to compromise—and its willingness to threaten the underpinnings of both government and the economy. Even in the throes of the Watergate scandal, the two parties collaborated to keep the system whole, sound, and on track. Or think of 1997: after House Speaker Newt Gingrich had pioneered the apocalyptic tactic of shutting down the government, which brought a fierce political backlash, he worked with President Clinton to enact the measures that led to a balanced budget. It is perhaps Bill Clinton's greatest achievement—and hard as it is to say this, Gingrich's finest hour.
Newt had learned the lesson of the shutdown. And today’s House Republicans say that they have, too. They've just approved a bill to fund the government until the end of September. The prevailing assumption is that the Senate will remove some of the poison pills that are killing domestic programs—and the final product will actually make it to the president's desk.
A great country shouldn't be making fateful fiscal decisions month by month, but it's better than fiscal collapse. That doesn't obviate the prospect of a gradual, grinding economic slowdown. Aside from the human pain, inflicted not just on federal workers but on the poorest and most vulnerable, the sequester is likely to reduce economic growth by at least half a percentage point and trigger the loss of one million jobs.
I've argued here before that the president in effect has to run for a third term in the midterm campaign. Aside from marshaling the unparalleled competencies of his organization—and I don't care about the tut-tutting of goo-goo groups like Common Cause about his fundraising for this—unilateral disarmament is not a sufficient response to the Koch brothers and their ilk—the president has to pin the tail on the elephant. As the sequester erodes the recovery, he has to hold the GOP accountable, and he has to draw dividing lines on the budget and fiscal policy: growth now, deficit reduction over time; Social Security, Medicare, investment in the future, not tax windfalls for the wealthy.
On a broad span of issues, from economic justice to the rights of women, Hispanics, other minorities, and gays and lesbians, the GOP is paddling against the tide of history. They will do it less conspicuously now, as quietly as the base will let them. And in the meantime, in the name of a clichéd and miscarried fiscal discipline, they will block or weaken the recovery every step of the way—and hope no one notices. Obama can and must make sure everyone does.
The president has reached out, sought out middle ground, and repeatedly been rebuffed. His experience validates JFK's observation that you can't negotiate with those who say: "What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable." For the sake of the nation, I wish Obama had some of the luck of Clinton in 1997. So while I never thought I'd write this either, maybe we should bring back Newt Gingrich.