Saturday, January 17, 2009

Obama courts the GOP, as the Left throws shoes, demands prosecutions

President-elect Obama and McCain at their post-election meeting in Chicago

As the Inauguration looms, Barack Obama continues to talk, plan and act as if he's every one's President and intends to govern from the center -- with respect to both domestic and foreign affairs. He has been aggressively courting Republicans and conservatives, inviting their input and working hard to gain their support. As Politico sums it up, Obama is not only "trying to seduce Republicans these days," but also courting conservatives in an effort that "runs much deeper and wider than is publicly known:"

Obama has had meetings with his former opponent John McCain, GOP congressional leaders and some of the country’s leading conservative commentators. He’s also honoring McCain and Colin Powell in high-profile pre-inaugural dinners, where Obama is expected to toast the Republicans.

Behind the scenes, Obama and his team are working just as hard, courting prominent Republicans and conservatives through frequent phone calls, e-mails and private sit-downs.

The selection of evangelical pastor Rick Warren for the inaugural invocation and Obama’s dinner with right-of-center writers at George F. Will’s home drew significant buzz. But the transition also has quietly reached out to other prominent figures atop the Southern Baptist Church, Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministry and the Jewish Orthodox Union.

What's more, Obama and Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel have been reaching out to and meeting with House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and other key Republicans, including the Senate GOP leaders, Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl, McCain pal Lindsey Graham, key committee ranking members Charles Grassley and Judd Gregg, and such moderates as Olympia Snowe.

Obama knows the country faces huge problems that can only be addressed, much less solved, if we genuinely "turn the page" on the often vicious and paralyzing partisan battles of the past 30 years. Most Democratic leaders -- and surely most Democratic voters -- understand this and are on board with it. Unfortunately, though, there are still those in the left wing of the party who would rather score points with their narrow constituencies, throw a few more shoes at Bush, or even try to criminalize politics and policy differences than join with Obama to govern the nation effectively. And it's not just DailyKos and a few other lefty bloggers.

Leading the way down this bitter path, veteran Michigan Representative John Conyers, Jr., Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, released a 486-page report entitled "Reining in the Imperial Presidency" and wrote an op-ed about it in the Washington Post in which he took issue with the inclination of many (including Obama) to "move on" and called for various investigations and possible prosecutions, not only about the Bush Administration's war policies but the supposed "politicization of the Justice Department," "the ravaging of our regulatory system and the use of signing statements to override the laws of the land," among other things.

Conspicuously, however, Conyers did not call for an inquiry into how or why the most sweeping act of financial deregulation in recent history and a powerful contributor to the present financial crisis, repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, passed the House by huge bi-partisan majorities of 343-86 and 362-57 and was signed into law by President Clinton in November 1999.

Over at The New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman urged Obama not to "forgive and forget" and to "reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime." What crime? Going beyond even Conyers, Krugman wants probes into "abuses [that] extended from environmental policy to voting rights" and "involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies." Krugman cites, among other things, the alleged "political" hiring at Justice and the award of "no-bid contracts to politically connected companies" in connection with reconstruction in Iraq.

I'm equally offended by purely political hiring and hanky panky in government contracting, and there are ways to control or eliminate perennial abuses of this kind. Still, I'll be surprised if the Obama Justice Department hires many lawyers who belong to the Federalist Society. And we'll see whether government contracting -- in Iraq or Afghanistan, all those "shovel ready" public works to be funded by the stimulus plan, or anywhere else suddenly becomes above board because a Democrat is in the White House.

Beginning in three days, President Obama will need to focus all of his, the Congress's and the nation's energies on surmounting tough challenges at home and abroad. He'll need the help and support of Republicans, as well as Democrats, and the sustained good will of moderate and conservative voters, as well as liberals, to get anything much done. A renewed descent into constant quarrel and division could be a disaster. He knows that. It's a pity that people like Conyers and Krugman remain oblivious to it.

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