Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On the Current Balance of Power in Washington...

The past eight years have left vast majorities of Americans across the political spectrum seeking a new President who can unite our nation and deliver us from this period of hyper-partisanship that has stalled our economic engine and endangered our interests abroad. Approval levels are at record lows, not just for President Bush, but for the Democrat-led Congress as well, because both have refused to work together.

We have failed to realize badly needed reforms to critical domestic programs, deficit spending has continued unchecked, while we have been unable to prevent the over-extension and collapse of major national financial institutions. Democrats and Republicans can't even come together to produce a comprehensive national energy strategy. Our country deserves a President who will put politics aside and govern in the best interests of the people, not his party or personal ambition.

Everyone I talk to, whether they're for Obama or McCain, wants a Commander-in-Chief who will work to build new coalitions between liberals and conservatives, focusing on what we agree upon, rather than what divides us. We deserve a leader who will cross party-lines to get the job done, accelerate reform and push an agenda of progress, not politics.

With a President McCain, I believe we will see a centrist government with real bipartisan cooperation built on compromise legislation a majority of Americans can support. It will be mandatory for a McCain Administration to find common ground with Congress if he wants to get anything done and pass any sort of meaningful legislation. Fortunately, and to the displeasure of some far-right conservatives, McCain has a long and reliable history of doing just that over his 25 years in government.

It's possible to go back through voting records and find that McCain has voted against his party on significant issues in far more instances than Obama. But a much more accurate barometer of cross-party cooperation is counting the number of times their colleagues from across the aisle signed on to legislation they wrote.

A study by the Washington Times shows since 2005, Mr. McCain has been the chief sponsor of 82 bills, on which he had 120 Democratic co-sponsors out of 220 total, for an average of 55 percent. He worked with Democrats on 50 of his bills, and of those, Democrats outnumber Republicans as co-sponsors in 37 instances. This is an amazing statistic considering the political climate from 2005 - Present.

Obama, meanwhile, sponsored 120 bills, of which Republicans co-sponsored just 26, and on only five bills did Republicans outnumber Democrats. Mr. Obama gained 522 total Democratic co-sponsors but only 75 Republicans, for an average of 13 percent of his co-sponsors.

The bill on which McCain attracted the most support in the past few years was his plan to combat greenhouse-gas emissions. That bill garnered 16 co-sponsors, 14 of whom were Democrats, including Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Obama signed onto another McCain global-warming bill and was one of five co-sponsors of McCain legislation to advance and strengthen democracy globally through peaceful means.

To round out this evaluation, one must also consider John McCain's long record of bipartisan cooperation extending long before Obama's 2004 entry into national politics. McCain has a proven ability to build consensus and compromise, lessons learned early in his career from his Congressional mentor and close friend, Arizona Democrat Mo Udall. (See articles about their relationship in Newsweek and Slate.)

Countless other across the aisle efforts mark McCain's tenure in Washington. He worked against the Bush White House to slash wasteful spending, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and restrict the use of torture techniques by the U.S. He teamed up with Democrats to support a patient's bill of rights, fund embryonic stem-cell research, develop a comprehensive immigration reform bill (that Obama co-sponsored), and has even shared the Chairman's gavel with his Democrat colleagues during Committee hearings.

But the most audacious example of McCain's willingness to compromise and collaborate with Democrats came in his legislative push for Campaign Finance Reform and his bill with Democrat Russ Feingold to ban soft money and shatter Washington's Republican-favored political economy. An excellent New York Times article from 1997 details the run-up to the eventual passage of the McCain-Feingold bill and clearly demonstrates just how contrary McCain's agenda was to his party leadership at the time.

It was in this same spirit McCain reached out to first-year Senator Barack Obama in 2006, inviting him into a bipartisan task force to assist in crafting an ethics reform bill. Obama attended a meeting with McCain and other senators committed to creating a bipartisan task force on ethics reform, and convinced his colleagues he was open to working closely together.

The very next day, Obama backtracked on his commitment to McCain's non-partisan approach. Instead of continuing to work with this bipartisan group, he wrote an open letter to McCain explaining a new-found preference for competing legislation supported by Senator Harry Reid. The Minority Leader's bill was without Republican cosponsors or any chance of passage. Despite the high political theatre of their correspondence, Obama missed an ideal opportunity to prove he was a true reformer, and a man with the courage to stand-up to his Democrat bosses and buck the status-quo. Yet little more than one year later, Obama announced he was running for President as a post-partisan reformer and the messenger for a "new" kind of politics.

The claim is laughable.

But nobody was laughing when Obama brought this story up again at the Saddleback Church Forum.

Warren: Can you give me a good example where you went against party loyalty, and maybe even went against your own best interest, for the good of America?

Obama: Well, you know, I'll give you an example that, in fact, I worked with John McCain on, and that was the issue of campaign ethics reform and finance reform. That wasn't probably in my interest or his, for that matter, because the truth was that both Democrats and Republicans sort of like the status quo.

How could this possibly be his best example of bipartisan sacrifice? How could a candidate boasting regularly of his ability to cross the aisle not have a legitimate story to back up his talk?

The reality is the Senate passed an ethics bill March 29, 2006 - the vote was 90 to 8 - and both Obama and McCain were among those voting against the measure on grounds it did not go far enough. The bill died in the House. When the Democrats took control of the Senate in 2007 they succeeded in passing the Honest Government and Leadership Act.

Obama supported this bill, and stated on the Senate floor, "Last year, I and Senator Feingold and Senator McCain voted against it because we thought we could do better...And I'm pleased to report that the bill before us today comes very close to what we proposed." Yet McCain opposed the bill, saying "Not only does this bill do far too little to reign in wasteful spending - it has completely gutted the earmark reform provisions we passed overwhelmingly in January."

Missing from his soaring rhetoric and empty promises of reconciliation and cooperation are any real examples of Obama's work to cross party lines and build alliances on the other side of the aisle. He can't even think of one legitimate instance himself when asked. Barack Obama is not the change I've been waiting for. He represents Washington politics-as-usual and a continuation of Democrat party line mantra of "Blame Bush" for another four years. Ironically, his core message and critique of McCain deepens the same divisions he claims to have the power to heal.

I'd like for a future President Obama to actually live up to the hype about all of change and reform he promises, but after watching him closely over the past 4 years, I think he's all talk and his words are hollow. He has done little to show me is willing or able to stand up to the Democrat machine and challenge the special interest money that poisons our politics. He promises the kind of supersized reform that I would love to see, but in practice, he's done the exact opposite throughout his career.

As thin as his resume may be, Obama's political past is full of broken promises that have confused his most fervent supporters. Mostly glossed over by the media and now long-forgotten by voters was Obama's refusal to abide by a pledge he made in September 2007 to stay within the public campaign-finance system if his opponent agreed to do the same. "Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has already pledged to accept this fundraising pledge. If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election." McCain was willing. Obama even asked for and received permission from the FEC to exploit a loophole in the law that would have still allowed him to rake in continuous cash contributions.

But on June 19, after securing the nomination and becoming a campaign cash cow, Obama changed his mind in a video email message to supporters.

My issue isn’t with Obama refusing to take public funds. Rather, I question his sincerity when he spent most of 2007 arguing in favor of the public financing system, made a pledge to support it, only to disregard his previous statements when he actually became the party’s nominee. The Obama campaign is largely based on the premise of "ending politics as usual," but Obama's unlikely rise to the top of the Democrat ticket was paved with political posturing and catering to Democrat special interests.

Disingenuously, he has tried to present himself as a post-partisan unity candidate, without so much as one example of his willingness to work with conservatives to achieve our mutual goals of a stronger, more prosperous, safer America.

Describing Obama’s tenure in the Senate, former Democrat Vice Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman said, “He has not reached across party lines to get anything significant done, nor has he been willing to take on powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party. Let me contrast Barack Obama's record to the record of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who stood up to some of those same Democratic interest groups, worked with Republicans, and got some important things done, like welfare reform, free trade agreements, and a balanced budget. ”

The Associated Press: "Even so, none of the examples cited by Obama's aides, beginning with a bill to secure nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union, placed the Illinois lawmaker at odds with the leaders of his own party or gave significant offense to outside interest groups aligned with Democrats." ("Bipartisanship Marks McCain's Senate Tenure," Associated Press, 7/2/08)

NPR's Juan Williams: "You think about everything from campaign finance to immigration and on, and there's John McCain working across party lines. Senator Obama doesn't have a record. Now, he can make the claim and he can hold himself up as pure and trying to reach to a new generation of post partisan politics, but he has to do so largely based on rhetoric and wishful thinking because he doesn't have the record." (Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume," 5/7/08)

The Washington Post's Richard Cohen: "There Is Scant Evidence The Illinois Senator Takes Positions That Challenge His Base Or Otherwise Threaten Him Politically. That's why his reversal on campaign financing and his transparently false justification of it matter more than similar acts by McCain." ("McCain's Core Advantage," The Washington Post, 6/24/08)

The Washington Post's David Ignatius, "What I hear from politicians who have worked with Obama, both in Illinois state politics and here in Washington, gives me pause. They describe someone with an extraordinary ability to work across racial lines but not someone who has earned any profiles in courage for standing up to special interests or divisive party activists. Indeed, the trait people remember best about Obama, in addition to his intellect, is his ambition." (Obama: A thin record for a bridge builder, Washington Post, 3/2/08)

Obama's record is far more left than McCain's is far right. Obama the healer has proven to be the most partisan in the Senate, McCain one of the most bipartisan.

John McCain doesn’t need to make speeches about healing or reconciliation to prove his credentials. He's been reaching out to his Democrat colleagues since he was first elected in 1981 and will continue to do so when he is elected President. McCain knows he must work together with a Democrat controlled Congress and he has the experience, knowledge and fortitude to govern in today's highly charged political environment, and build new intra-party coalitions to move our nation's policies to the center and away from the far-right or far-left fringes.

With Obama, the Democrats in control of Congress get a rubber stamp in the White House. McCain will be forced to govern from the center, whereas Obama will have zero motivation to play things down the middle or find compromise with minority Republicans. Such policies will only further the partisan divide and maintain the status quo in Washington.

McCain has had his share of flips and flops, but his record still shows more more of a willingness to take on political special interests and act in the best interests of the American people instead of his political party. Obama has a far-left record of appeasement to his liberal base, pandering to the center and can't even name a valid instance of working across party lines when asked. When considering the current balance of power in Washington and the deep partisan divide across our nation...McCain has the advantage.

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