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Thursday, September 18, 2008

McCain Campaign: "Our View On Bipartisanship: Who's The Better Uniter?"

"As McCain points out on the campaign trail, Obama has a much thinner record of bucking his own party. ... As a U.S. senator, he has taken liberal Democratic positions on most issues." -- USA Today

"Our View On Bipartisanship: Who's The Better Uniter?"
USA Today
September 18, 2008

McCain has a longer record of bucking his party's orthodoxy.

Presidents who try to push through major policy changes without the opposing party almost always come to grief. George W. Bush's bid to create private accounts for Social Security collapsed in 2005 when Democrats rejected it. A decade earlier, Bill Clinton's health care overhaul died for lack of Republican input and support.

Social Security and health care remain unreformed, and whether the next president is Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama, he'll need help from members of the other party to address these and other pressing issues. So it's reasonable to ask whether either of them -- both self-styled change agents who tout their ability to cross political lines -- have shown they can do this.

McCain, in Congress for 26 years to Obama's four, has the longer record of producing bipartisan alliances on tough issues. He has bucked his party again and again to do just that -- on immigration, federal judges and campaign finance, to name three on which he enraged many Republicans by defying the party position and working with Democrats. McCain-the-maverick has reverted to party orthodoxy on taxes and other issues this year, which will put him in a bind if elected: Would he stick with those new positions, or compromise with the Democratic Congress he'd likely be working with?

As McCain points out on the campaign trail, Obama has a much thinner record of bucking his own party. With the exception of tough fights for ethics reforms in the Illinois Senate and in Washington -- where he angered Democratic colleagues by insisting on the disclosure of lobbyists who bundle campaign donations -- Obama has rarely challenged party dogma on the sort of big, contentious issues he'd face as president. As a U.S. senator, he has taken liberal Democratic positions on most issues. Studies by Congressional Quarterly show Obama has voted with his party almost 97% of the time, vs. about 85% for McCain.

Where Obama has diverged, it has often been rhetorical and reactive: After securing the nomination, he expressed disagreement with a Supreme Court decision that struck down the death penalty in cases of child rape, and he approved a decision that overturned a strict gun control law in Washington, D.C. He has signaled support for a modified form of affirmative action (extending it to poorer whites and denying it to better-off African Americans), and he has supported a key Bush initiative that funnels federal dollars to faith-based groups.

Obama's bipartisan accomplishments in Washington have been on significant, but relatively non-controversial, efforts to secure nuclear weapons and establish a federal-spending database. What he lacks is a record of challenging his own party on divisive, difficult issues -- the deficit, immigration, energy -- that he'd have to reach out to Republicans on if he's elected. Even with a Democratic majority in Congress, it takes 60 votes in the Senate to pass most major measures.
None of this is to say Obama couldn't turn into a consensus-building, party-challenging president. Based on their records so far, though, it takes a greater leap of faith to believe that of him than of McCain.

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