Obama’s Efforts to Ratchet-Down Partisanship


Via Steve Benen, an interesting Carl Hulse article in The New York Times looks at the appointment of Rep John McHugh as Army Secretary and former Rep Jim Leach to head the National Endowment for the Humanities along with other Republicans Obama has brought into his administration. Hulse’s political angle is this

In embracing select Republicans, the Obama administration — notably Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff — seems to be applying this maxim: Hug them until it hurts.

Maybe so. I do think, however, that it’s genuinely worth noting that these are all appointments to positions that lie outside the main axis of partisan/ideological conflict in the United States. What the clash between the parties is really all about, at the end of the day, is whether the power of the federal government should be used to nudge the distribution of wealth and income upwards or downwards. That’s the enduring tension between the party coalitions in the modern era.

But besides that, there are tons of other issues. Some of them are very substantively important—how should we handle our relationship with China? Some, like the NEA, are at times political hot buttons. Many relate to the conduct of national defense. On those kind of issues, there’s no particular reason to believe, as an a priori manner, that members of the same coalition should all think alike. And Obama seems to me to be pretty narrowly targeting those kind of issues for this sort of bipartisan outreach. There are controversial aspects to US-China relations, but they’re not systematic partisan controversies. Bringing Republicans into the fold helps emphasize that fact. And while it may make Republicans hurt, it’s not clear that it really should. At the end of the day, there’s no good reason for conservatives to want China policy to be done poorly, or the Army to be administered badly.