Partisanship at its Worse


In an era when people are beginning to view with heightened cynicism the nature of local politics, I remain of the view – and some might call it overly optimistic – that we are, to date, far from the depths to which certain societies have sunk.  I refer specifically to the American political system and am going to expand on my reasons for this assessment below, if you’re willing to bear with me. Now, regular readers of this column would know by now that I have a more than passing interest in US politics, particularly since the rise of Barack Obama.  My position from the inception has been clear, a mixture of admiration for the bold steps Obama has taken in policy decision after policy decision – from healthcare to international diplomacy – and an increasing disgust with the lengths the Republican right wing has gone to discredit the efforts made, often to the point of sheer illogic.
I admit I watch people like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck just to see how cynical and outrageous their rhetoric continues to be.
The most recent example of the outright partisan approach taken by the right wing propaganda machine is that of the Joe Sestak affair.  In summary, it is claimed – and so far acknowledged by the White House – that former President Bill Clinton approached Pennsylvania Democrat Sestak with the offer of a position in the Obama administration supposedly in return for not running against Arlen Specter.
That said, as political scandals go – particularly in the post-Bush era – this is a virtual non-issue, in my mind.  This pales in correspondence, for example, to the Valerie Plame affair in which the Bush White House actually endangered a CIA operative because her husband dared to take a principled position against the now totally discredited case that was made to invade Iraq.
The major problem for Obama however is going to be, ironically enough, the very departure he has made in principle from the politics of dog-eat-dog partisanship that has typified the Bush-Cheney reign in Washington.  While the tactic chosen by Rahm Emanual in this case is questionable with regard to the high ethical standard set by the Obama campaign, the truth is, Emanuel is nowhere near a Karl Rove in terms of behind the scenes manipulation and outright evil.
In mentioning Rove, in an article titled, “Yes, the Gulf Spill is Obama’s Katrina”, published in the once-reputable Wall Street Journal, now owned by Fox News’ parent company, News Corp, the former Bush kingmaker has this to say:
“Could this be Mr. Obama’s Katrina? It could be even worse. The federal response to Katrina was governed by the 1988 Stafford Act, which says that in natural disasters on-shore states are in charge, not Washington. The federal obligation is to “support . . . State and local assistance efforts” by providing whatever resources a governor requests and then writing big checks for the cleanup. Mr. Bush had to deal with a Louisiana governor and a New Orleans mayor who were, by federal law, in charge.But BP’s well was drilled in federal waters. Washington, not Louisiana, is in charge. This is Mr. Obama’s responsibility.”
This has been the other dead horse the Republicans have been whipping of late.  Of course, this is being done in his haste to point out the Obama’s administration’s responsibility somehow for – strangely enough – a disaster caused by an industry that had the full support and patronage of the Bush Administration.  Indeed, what Rove and his ilk have studiously avoided mentioning is that the Halliburton – the company once headed by Dick Cheney and which enjoyed not only impunity with relation to its low delivery standards as well as vulgar profits on contracts in the Iraq War – was directly responsible for cementing the drill, some twenty hours before the explosion which caused the leak.
And there was never any glib response from Obama in the vein of Bush when he told the politically appointed Chairman of FEMA, Michael Brown that he was doing a great job even as the aftermath of Katrina worsened.  Obama has from the inception laid the responsibility for the disaster and the mitigation of its effects where it belongs, and where the right wing, with its often scandalous ties to the industry has tried to shift the blame away from, the oil companies involved.
This is clearly hypocrisy and double standards at its worst.  The very Republicans that complain about the need to keep the government out of the regulation and policing of the private sector is saying that the Obama administration did not wield the power of federal government quickly enough.  The same Republicans who fight tooth and nail for the rights of oil companies to continue their business unbothered by issues like climate change from fossil fuel emissions are saying that Obama did not act fast enough, while somehow removing culpability from the oil companies themselves.  The same Republicans who oversaw the most dangerous intrusion of government into American public life under the banner of the Patriot Act, wiretapping legislation and the establishment of the Department of Homeland security are now claiming that the Obama is spreading the arms of government too far by trying to ensure that Americans have a better access to quality healthcare. The same Republicans who didn’t bat an eyelid when George Bush Jr. completely wasted the post-Clinton surplus and created a record deficit, who are now complaining about Obama’s handling of the economy.  And it is the same Republicans who created one of the largest bureaucracies in American history – the Department of Homeland Security – but still complain about the need for small government.
I believe that many of America’s woes, from the meltdown on Wall Street to the untouchable status afforded many industries from Big Oil to the insurance companies to defence contractors were created from a policy of deregulation that dates back to the Reagan years, and America is yet to pay the full price for all the sins of the neo-Cons
When I consider the actions of the Republicans – and this is not to say that the Democrats come away completely innocent – and the entire right wing machinery which supports that party, from the town-hall campaign to the opposition to the federal bailout package (and the quiet acceptance of it nonetheless) as well as the opposition to the first sensible healthcare initiative in decades –  I am relieved, believe it or not, that we have not reached that level of hypocrisy in local politics.
(Editor’s Note: The Keith Burrowes column published on page seven of yesterday’s Chronicle was a draft. And so here, today, we publish the finished piece. The Chronicle regrets the error.)