If a new political breeze is blowing in the capital, perhaps the best evidence can be found in this: A Democratic president selects a Republican senator to serve in the cabinet. The Democratic governor with the power to fill the Senate seat signals that he will leave it in Republican hands, depriving his party of a chance to reach 60 votes, a magic number when it comes to passing legislation.Is bi-partisanship the change that sixty million people voted for? Is the focus on bi-partisanship a calculation based on the vote counts in the last election and designed to ensure support for an Obama second term? Will the Republican members of the Cabinet be effective advocates for the President's agenda. What is the class content of bi-partisanship?
Certainly Senator Judd Gregg is partisan. He told the Administration that "he would not serve if a Democrat was to fill his seat." Replacing Senator Gregg with an appointed Democrat would have consolidated the power of the Democrats in the Senate.
As Senator Gregg said:
“I have made it clear to the Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle and to the governor that I would not leave the Senate if I felt my departure would cause a change in the makeup of the Senate,” he said. “The Senate leadership, both Democratic and Republican, and the governor understand this concern, and I appreciate their consideration of this position.”
The focus on bipartisanship is evidently an overarching concern for President Obama.
Even when the possibility of putting a Democrat in Mr. Gregg’s Senate seat dimmed, Mr. Obama pressed ahead, telling his advisers that it was more important to build a bipartisan cabinet than increase his Senate majority.
As regards the class content of bipartisanship,
James M. Demers, a New Hampshire Democrat who was a leading supporter of Mr. Obama’s presidential bid, said selecting Mr. Gregg as commerce secretary would send a signal to Republicans that the president was serious about building a bipartisan team with diverse viewpoints. Mr. Demers said it could also ease suspicion among fiscal conservatives about Mr. Obama’s agenda.The fiscal conservatives are among the folks that created the fiscal crisis. If fiscal conservatism relates to limiting debt or "fiscal responsibility" as a justification for attacking Social Security and Medicare in the current crisis then the class content is clear; these are anti-working class trends.
While the President continues to push for the much needed bailout, and for expanding labor's ability to organize, there are contradictory trends in the Administration. In the face of zero Republican votes in the House for the fiscal stimulus, the President continues to push for bipartisanship. This concern gives voice to a party, the Republicans, that suffered near complete renunciation at the polls in the last election. Rather than allowing the Republicans to water down the initiatives that the President desires to undertake on behalf of working families in the United States, it would be good to push hard to get as much as possible passed to undo the decades of conservative, primarily but not only Republican, financial devestation that has been wrought on working families.
The measure of success in a changed Washington is not how the Administration pursues bipartisanship in the mistaken belief that everyone wants what is best for the country as a whole. The measure of success is whether the needs of working families, those without access to health care, the unemployed, organized labor, the disabled, the immigrant, and the downtrodden, the young, and the oppressed get help in our struggle to live and meet our basic needs.
Class struggle from below in the form of large grass roots movements in support of the needs of working families and our allies is needed as much today as ever to counterbalance the influence of big business and their allies in the policy-making process and help to create space for the President to provide the promised change that goes far beyond bipartisanship, change that provides concrete help to working families.