Over and over, Nancy Pelosi and her allies privately delivered the same message to Barack Obama: Mr. President, you can have bipartisanship or you can have a stimulus bill, but you can't have both.
He seems to have gotten the message. House Republicans, badly outnumbered and shorn of let's-make-a-deal moderates by their losses in the two elections, have proven remarkably immune to crossover appeals, as have most GOP senators.
On Thursday, Rahm Emanuel, Obama's point man, told reporters that his boss was still committed to bipartisanship, but admitted something fundamental had changed when the GOP "shift[ed] from bipartisan overtures to outright mockery."
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) put it more bluntly -- blaming much of the week's drama on Obama's commitment to courting House Republicans, even after it was apparent they wanted to cast a unanimous nay as a point of partisan pride and principle.
"I don't think he should have set the expectation he was going to get Republican votes," the Financial Services chairman told Politico on Friday. "He set himself a high bar -- and an irrelevant bar... and he didn't achieve it... He should not have legitimized [the notion of bipartisanship], that prompted their partisan reaction... I don't think he's going to make that mistake again."
One Democrat likened Obama's desire to score even a single GOP defector to Abraham's pursuit of a "single virtuous man" in Sodom and Gomorrah.
After Friday's stimulus shutout, House Republicans were snickering at Obama's courtship of moderate Michigan GOPer Fred Upton, who got an invite to the president's Super Bowl party and a ride on Air Force One - and still voted no.
"The president learned a lesson," one GOP aide quipped. "Fred's going to ride on your plane, eat your M&Ms, but he ain't going to vote for your bill."
The liberal view of bipartisanship: coming up with a bill that most conservatives consider to be among the worst in the history of our Republic, ramming it through the House and the Senate outside the normal process, cutting Republicans out of the committee negotiations, but expecting Republicans to vote for it because they were taken on a "ride on Air Force One" and got to eat the President's M&M's.
Setting aside the idea whether bipartisanship turns out to be good or bad for the country (usually bad I would say) or how achievable it is in the first place when both sides not only don't view problems the same way, but think the other side's "solutions" will only make the problem worse, bipartisanship actually means compromising on legislation. Not a tiny compromise on the edges -- it means big compromises. There was none of those with this bill, although to be fair, the Democrats would have had to give the GOP a lot in return for voting for this monstrosity. A constitutional amendment requiring a 2/3 majority in the House and Senate to raise taxes, a promise of no further bailouts, and a 10% cut of staff from every government agency but defense perhaps -- that might be an even trade? Maybe -- maybe not -- but, it's worth noting, the Right was asked to compromise everything they believed in to support this bill, while the Left wasn't asked to make any significant compromises.
It's also worth noting that it was Barack Obama who made unity and bipartisanship a core part of his campaign platform. Granted, Bush ran as a "uniter, not a divider, too" but he actually tried to make it work. He did institute a "new tone." He did partner with Ted Kennedy to write "No Child Left Behind." His payback for his effort to reach out to Democrats was a campaign of demonization unprecedented in the history of American politics. John McCain also promised bipartisanship, but John McCain would have actually made it work by moving his proposals to the left. That's why Republicans like me constantly want to strangle the guy.
With Obama, the "unity" and "bipartisanship" rhetoric was nothing more than empty slogans -- more lies from a pathological liar who is so habitually deceptive that he will make Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton look honest in comparison by the time he's done.