Commentary: The GOP’s Scorched-Earth Policy Against Obama

Even when they were deeply divided, Republicans used to be willing to compromise with Democrats on matters of national urgency (though Newt Gingrich was an exception when he tried to shut down the federal government in the 1990s). Why won't the GOP compromise with President Obama today?

Over the years, I’ve studied the GOP legislative tactics very carefully. I watched them as they sparred vigorously with the late Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill over policies and budget cuts. I took notes as other Speakers, such as Tom Foley and Dick Gephardt, fought the Republicans over various bills and issues along partisan lines. I was always struck by the fact that no matter how heated the debate became, at the 11th hour the partisans could always come to some sort of compromise. It may not have been the compromise that I’d like to see happen, but it was something.

When conservative Republican Newt Gingrich was elected to the Speaker’s position during the Clinton Administration, the political tides turned. And just like now, Republicans were determined to bring down the Democratic (and democratically elected) president by any means, even if it meant shutting down the government. In fact, Republican inaction did shut down the government twice, once in 1995 and another time in 1996. Both times Gingrich and his crew realized that they were losing political capital with this tactic. So they eventually came to the table and hashed out a compromise.

So why is it, now that Barack Obama is president, that the GOP wants to dig in and refuses to compromise? Even in the midst of an economic crisis that begs for them to come together and work with the Democrats and the White House and pass something as badly needed as the jobs bill, the GOP refuses to budge. In a severe economic crisis, the pain is generally felt among both parties’ most partisan constituency. I’m quite sure that as many middle-class Republicans as Democrats are suffering in this economy. Surely the GOP can’t be so callous as to let their goal of bringing down the president stop them from doing what is right for the country.

Yet, according to Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation and the lone Republican in the Obama Administration, this is exactly the case with the current crop of GOP legislators.  LaHood says that the Republicans, led by the Tea Party, have put defeating Obama above creating jobs. In a twisted kind of scorched-earth policy, the GOP has been stonewalling Obama’s effort to fix the economy with the hope that the majority of people who supported him in 2008 will turn against him in 2012. Speaking to his party’s inaction, LaHood told Newsweek and The Daily Beast: “The crowd that was elected the last time not only came here to do nothing, they also came to put down the president. And the way to put him down is not to give him any kind of opportunity to be successful.”

Just a little something the GOP’s agenda that you might want to think about while you’re on your way to the polls next week and in 2012.         

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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