Judd Gregg, Possible Commerce Secretary, Is the Face of Change in Obama Washington

Possible commerce secretary symbolizes change in Washington.

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To be clear, partisan differences are the lifeblood of a thriving democracy. The tensions they create can sharpen both parties, elucidate important ideological differences, and improve the final legislation that emerges from debate.  Those who mourn the bygone age of nonpartisanship are prisoner to a romanticized history that sets an unattainable, even undesirable, standard for evaluating the quality of today's political discourse.

However, at some point in the past two decades, Washington moved past partisanship to a toxic sort of political schadenfreude where discrediting the other party took precedence over advancing ideas. During the Cold War, we often held our noses and supported foreign regimes based primarily, or even solely, on their disdain for communism. Once that front closed, Republicans came to embrace a Paula Jones or Monica Lewinsky and Democrats to venerate the likes of Cindy Sheehan and Joseph Wilson—whoever it was that could confirm their antipathy for the other party and its leader.

It may well be that these early signs of sanity are gone by the time the cherry blossoms appear. If so, it will represent a significant opportunity lost and a depressing confirmation for the new president that "change" is easier to speak of than to accomplish, even with a political hurricane at your back.

Frank Micciche is deputy director of the Next Social Contract Initiative at the New America Foundation.

  • Read more by Frank Micciche.
  • Read about reports that Judd Gregg could be the next Commerce Secretary.
  • Read more about the Obama administration.