National Fellow Herbert G. Klein
One area he is yet to address fully is the extreme bitter partisanship that has developed in Washington in recent years. Excessive partisanship on both sides of the aisle has made Congress an ineffective body, and as the nation seeks logical solutions to crisis, we have an urgent need for thoughtful solutions instead of hollow speeches.
Key issues in the Obama presidential campaign were "change," nonpartisanship, and the need for new faces in Washington's leadership roles. How the new administration handles those campaign promises will be one of the keys to its success or failure.
It is healthy for our country to have two political parties, each with partisan philosophical differences. Within those parties, one-mindedness is unhealthy--as is the trend to vote for candidates on the basis of one issue.
While Mr. Obama was campaigning on these issues, his party leaders in Congress, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, plunged extreme partisanship to new depths.
That raises the question whether they will accept the leadership of a president from their own party.
I believe there are two ways to look at partisanship.
It is healthy for our country to have two political parties, each with partisan philosophical differences. Within those parties, one-mindedness is unhealthy--as is the trend to vote for candidates on the basis of one issue. There are growing numbers of nonpartisan voters. That is healthy, but I believe a strong third party would undermine our system of government.
We can observe countries like Italy or Canada and see that multiple parties bring uncertainty and sometimes chaos.
Clearly in this year's elections the Democrats did a better job strengthening their party than did the Republicans. Among other things, most new voters supported Mr. Obama's call for less bitter partisanship.
In the early days of our republic, there was much debate among our leaders, but that was nothing compared to what we see today. Madison and Jefferson, for example, were great debaters who argued on the basis of philosophy.
President Abraham Lincoln chose another path by appointing some of his strongest opponents to his cabinet. That was a time when the president could stroll to the Willard Hotel and discuss the issues over a cup of tea or coffee.
In recent years, President Dwight Eisenhower developed a White House staff system similar to one he had in the army. He also broadened the responsibilities of the vice president. Basically, he depended on a strong staff, and that system has prevailed since that time.
With the help of former New York Gov. Tom Dewey, President Eisenhower appointed a strong Cabinet, but he depended even more on a strong staff. He considered himself to be the hub of a wheel, and the spokes were those with closest direct access to him. Some of those "spokes" were in his Kitchen Cabinet.
When Eisenhower had his heart attack, his press secretary Jim Hagerty and Vice President Richard Nixon quietly ran the country.
In those days the president would avoid a bitter partisan debate by inviting key congressional leaders such as Lyndon Johnson, Everett Dirksen, Tip O'Neill and Sam Rayburn to the White House for a little bourbon and thoughtful discussions of the issues.
Congressmen and women would debate all day and then have a friendly drink or dinner later in the evening.
Former presidential candidate Gene McCarthy once made a speech on the Senate floor denouncing me, and later at a cocktail party, he apologized and said, "Bobby Kennedy pressured me to do that." We became lifelong friends despite our vastly different political philosophies.
With his appointments thus far, Mr. Obama mostly has avoided the appointment of partisan extremists. The most possible exceptions are his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. The Clinton appointment, however, reflects well on Mr. Obama's willingness to appoint a strong opponent to his Cabinet. Mr. Obama has said he "prizes strong personalities and strong opinions." He and his staff will be tested in the area of national security with Mrs. Clinton, Robert Gates, his defense secretary, his vice president, Joe Biden, and his staff national security adviser, Gen. Jim Jones, likely to differ often in their views on important security issues.
The appointment to the White House post I created, director of communications, also may represent extreme partisanship under Mr. Obama. In my term I stressed factual information. Credibility built on facts, not propaganda, is vital to success, in my opinion. That format seems unlikely with the appointment of Ellen Moran, executive director of Emily's List, an organization dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office. Prior to that she was an AFL-CIO official. In fairness, however, Miss Moran's job definition is yet to be made clear.
Extreme partisan deadlock is a cancer that endangers our nation.
Philosophy is important, but the country needs answers, not tantalizing, bitter speeches. As Mr. Obama pointed out in his campaign, reason and compromise are needed now--right now.
Herbert G. Klein is a national fellow at AEI.