John McCain

It’s time for a political pop quiz:

Question: What’s the best way to know your efforts are truly bipartisan?

Answer: Factions on both sides of the political aisle are mad at you, yet many Americans believe what you did was the right thing.

Case in point: The tax-cut compromise bill reached through negotiation between President Obama and Republican congressional leaders. Nobody is 100-percent pleased with the bill, and that’s because both political parties had to give up something to get something in return.

That’s how it worked in the good old days before hyper-partisan talking heads ruled the cable news networks 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Yep, it was good old-fashioned compromise that created this deal.

And with all due respect to incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner – who recently said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he rejects the word “compromise” as meaning the equivalent of showing weakness by not standing up for what one believes in – compromise is exactly what all our lawmakers should be focusing on doing these days.

When Obama easily won the 2008 presidential race, it wasn’t just because he was the anti-Bush and seemed to understand economics better than John McCain. People also bought into his campaign promise to change Washington, D.C., politics by bringing compromise back to the table.

Unfortunately, Obama’s victory on those grounds essentially turned the Republicans into what a Democratic operative keenly dubbed “The Party of No.” Whatever the Democrats wanted, the Republicans didn’t. And outgoing Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to be approaching her job the same way as the Republicans. If the GOP wanted something, the “Speaker of No” didn’t. That’s partly what made Pelosi an easy target for Republicans during this year’s midterm elections.

Then, on Nov. 2, the Democrats got jolted back to reality by the “shellacking” they suffered at the polls. That seemed to remind Obama that the majority of Americans – whom I believe sit firmly in the center of the political aisle, or at least have aisle seats – want compromise, even if that’s not what some of them want to call it. That much was evident when he took control of the tax-cut situation and came to a compromise with GOP congressional leaders regarding the Bush-era tax cuts, extension of unemployment benefits and Social Security payroll taxes.

Now that they have some congressional power again, the Republicans now seem willing to compromise, too – at least on some issues, like repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays and lesbians, and finally moving forward on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia.

Should both political parties come to consensus about every issue? Of course not – their key differences are what make them unique from each other and draw loyalties from the electorate. But they need t0 remember that every issue is not one of those exceptions. If they don’t, we’re headed for gridlock.

This column was originally published in the Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010, issue of Ottawa Delivered.


I generally try to ignore what Dick Cheney says these days, but I took notice Sunday when the former vice president said Colin Powell is no longer a Republican.

Here’s the gist of the matter, as reported on CNN’s Web site:

Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Cheney was asked about a dispute between Powell — who was secretary of state in the Bush-Cheney administration — and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh over the role each plays in the GOP.

“My take on it was Colin had already left the party,” Cheney said. “I didn’t know he was still a Republican.”

The former vice president noted that Powell endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama in last year’s presidential race. “I assume that that’s some indication of his loyalty and his interests,” Cheney said.

Powell, in a speech last week, said “the Republican Party is in deep trouble” and said the GOP would be better off without Limbaugh, according to a report by the National Journal.

Limbaugh fired back on his program Wednesday, saying, “What Colin Powell needs to do is close the loop and become a Democrat instead of claiming to be a Republican interested in reforming the Republican Party.”

So Cheney and Limbaugh consider Powell a Democrat because he endorsed Obama for president? Does that mean they consider Joe Lieberman a Republican because he endorsed John McCain for president?

Interestingly, Cheney wants to boot Powell from the GOP but claims “there is room for moderates in the Republican Party” :

But, he added, “I don’t think the party ought to move dramatically to the left, for example, in order to try to redefine its base. We are what we are. We’re Republicans. We have certain things we believe in. And maintaining our loyalty and commitment to those principles is vital to our success.”

The next journalist who interviews Cheney needs to ask him for some examples of acceptable GOP moderates, because I’m curious who would be on that list.

Just as both major political parties have done when down in the past, the Republican Party will regain prominence — but first Republican leaders need to embrace moderate voices within their party. Unfortunately for them, tolerance of GOP moderates is hard to envision when vocal partisans like Cheney and Limbaugh are quick to expel any Republican who dares to disagree with them. The Republican Party needs vocal leaders who are more tolerant of true GOP moderates, and those vocal leaders must be able to out-shout Limbaugh and company. Until that time comes, it is likely the GOP will continue to struggle for relevancy on a national level.

Newspapers and magazines aren’t the only ones who must adapt or die these days. Politicians sometimes find themselves in a similar situation, as did U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, who announced today he is defecting from the Republican Party to the Democratic side of the political aisle.

“As the Republican Party has moved farther and father to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party,” Specter, 79, said during a press conference.

There is truth in what Specter said, as he was a moderate member of the Republican caucus. He was one of only three Republican senators to vote in favor of President Obama’s economic stimulus package. But make no mistake, he switched political parties because there was a real chance he would lose the upcoming Republican primary for his U.S. Senate seat. Now he will run unopposed in the Democratic primary.

“The bottom line is the Republican Party has become inhospitable to moderates,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, told CNN. “It was just very uncomfortable for Arlen Specter. He was being challenged on the right. When he did what he thought was principled, he was scorned by the overwhelming base of his party.”

As has been shown time and again since Barack Obama won the presidency last November, no one has been a bigger Republican base rallier than talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. He said this about the Specter defection: “A lot of people said, well Specter, take McCain with you, and his daughter. Take McCain and his daughter with you.”

Way to prove Specter’s point about the Republican Party being less inclusive, Limbaugh. Rip another moderate Republican senator, John McCain, and his outspoken daughter, Meghan McCain — who dares to call for a dialogue about the future of the Republican Party — while you’re angry about Specter. If the Republican Party continues to listen to the likes of Limbaugh, it deserves to fall apart.

With that said, I am slightly concerned about the 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority the Democrats will have in the U.S. Senate if and when Al Franken is seated as Minnesota’s junior U.S. senator. I normally don’t think it is good for a single political party to be in charge of the White House and both congressional chambers. I suspect most people feel that way, and the Republicans will rise again as a result. But this may be a rare time when it is palatable for one political party to have control of both reins of the federal government. Desperate times demand clear, decisive leadership, and the GOP’s current modus operandi appears to be simple: oppose anything and everything suggested by Democrats. Things need to get done NOW to prevent the economic crisis from getting worse.

Incidentally, Specter said he “will not be an automatic 60th vote.” Good. I don’t want 60 rubber stamps running the U.S. Senate. Nor do the American people as a whole. But we do want consensus to be reached so things get done — not stonewalling tactics and opposition just for the sake of opposition. The stakes are too high to screw around.