In a previous post, I pointed out that change and bipartisanship were two themes of the Obama campaign, yet they rarely go together. One party rule, or what political scientists sometimes refer to as "party government," presents the best opportunity to bring big, broad changes to government. So which of these campaign themes will dominate the Obama presidency?
In the current debate over the stimulus bill, President Obama's competing goals of change and bipartisanship have come into conflict. He can support a bipartisan effort, with more modest change, or, he can support large-scale change with little Republican support. These competing views can also be seen in two separate editorials in yesterday's New York Times.
Presenting the argument for change, and against bipartisanship, is Princeton economist Paul Krugman. Krugman encourages Obama to not seek Republican support for the bill. It was Republican policies that got us into this mess in the first place, he argues. Obama's efforts at bipartisanship were a mistake; because, he "ended up empowering politicians who take their marching orders from Rush Limbaugh."
Presenting the argument for bipartisanship is columnist David Brooks. Brooks sees the stimulus bill as Obama's opportunity to fulfill his campaign promise to transcend partisanship, and put the divisive politics of the past behind us. He encourages Obama to back the effort of the Senate moderates, led by Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ben Nelson (D-NE). He says, "But there’s no way that Obama, who spent two years campaigning on postpartisan politics, can reject the single biggest manifestation of postpartisanship in the country today. If he does that, his credibility will be shot." The type of change that Brooks can believe in is centrist, bipartisan, and modest.
Obama finds himself at a crossroads. Brooks is correct when he notes that Obama's choice could set the tone for his presidency. So, which path should he take?