The Dangers of Republican Obstructionism

Obama must remind Democrats and Republicans that they are American companions in misfortune.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog 

Adolf Hitler had punched his "bloody fists" into France, and the British Army was stranded on the sands of Dunkirk where, as author William Manchester described them, "On the Flanders beaches they stood around in angular, existential attitudes, like dim purgatorial souls awaiting disposition." Then "from the streams and estuaries of Kent and Dover, a strange fleet appeared," Manchester wrote. Fishing boats and racing yachts, scows and tugs, all manned by volunteers: "English fathers, sailing to rescue England's exhausted, bleeding sons." 

Winston Churchill, newly installed as prime minister, met with his French counterparts, one of whom made the divisive suggestion that the ad hoc British fleet would not also rescue what remained of the French army. Churchill's aides braced for what, they were sure, would be an angry retort. Instead the prime minister said, "We are companions in misfortune. There is nothing to be gained from recrimination over our common miseries." 

We do not face the existential crisis that confronted the British in 1940. If Barack Obama is unable to provide the presidential leadership required at this moment, our system will grind out other pretenders until one, at last, proves capable. If the feckless Democrats in Congress pale at the work ahead, they will be replaced as well. 

I don't know what it will take; hopefully, something less than the threat of another Hitler, to persuade the Democrats and Republicans that we are, indeed, companions in misfortune. Right now they seem bent on recrimination. 

Today's papers carry the news that the Republicans, having chosen obstructionism as a campaign strategy for the fall elections, are likely to boycott a presidential commission, being named by Obama, to point the nation on a path toward fiscal sanity. The president has chosen former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican from Wyoming, to chair the panel, along with Erskine Bowles, a conservative Democrat from North Carolina. 

Simpson got off to a good start. In today's New York Times, he skewered the members of Congress, from both parties, for practicing "the politics of fear and division and hate" for their own selfish political gains. 

"We are at a point right now," said Simpson, "where it doesn't make a damn whether you're a Democrat or a Republican if you've forgotten you're an American." 

But good men like Simpson can only do so much. In our political system, we look to the president to remind us that we are, in fact, all Americans. He needs be less greyhound, and more bulldog. 

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