US President Barack Obama promised to reach out to rivals and embrace all good ideas when devising economic policy. But his 11th hour demagoguery over the stimulus Bill—publicly lambasting the Republicans for not meekly supporting his bloated legislation—reeked of partisan politics.
Now, his second nominee for commerce secretary, a conservative Republican, has withdrawn, saying he has irreconcilable policy differences with Obama. That leaves the bipartisan policy myth in tatters.
Notes of dissent: US President Barack Obama’s effort to form a strong and cohesive team leaves the bipartisan policy myth in tatters. Jim Young / Reuters
Senator Judd Gregg’s decision to drop out over policy differences looks slightly less embarrassing for the Obama team than the forced withdrawal of his earlier commerce nominee due to a grand jury investigation and two other top appointees—not counting treasury boss Tim Geithner’s nearly derailed nomination—due to tax problems. But in fact, it stems from the same issues: poor vetting and judgment.
After all, Gregg said he discussed his opposition to several Obama policies, including the stimulus, with the administration early in the courtship. If Obama really did want dissenting opinions in his cabinet—a promise that had the commentariat comparing his administration to Lincoln’s “team of rivals”—he should have been able to accommodate Gregg. As it is, this fiasco makes the appointment look like a failed attempt to acquire the patina of bipartisanship without the substance.
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Of course, the problem might have been Gregg’s intransigence as much as Obama’s. But such profound differences over policy should have come to light earlier. It’s still early days, but Gregg’s decision adds to the markets’ worries at the worst possible time. In light of Obama’s problems with his other nominees, the partisan fight over the stimulus and the lack of details in the bank rescue plan, his administration needs to act decisively to rebuild confidence in its ability to assemble a strong economics team and produce coherent and effective policies.