Magazine article Newsweek

What Was That About?

Magazine article Newsweek

What Was That About?

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

Only two months ago, Sen. Judd Gregg embodied a new spirit of bipartisanship in Washington. To the surprise of everyone (and the dismay of his Republican colleagues), he cut a deal to join Barack Obama's cabinet. The president, Gregg said last week, assured him he wanted a "contrarian" at his table-- an antitax, anti-big-government Yankee skinflint in a sea of statist dreamers. Gregg saw himself as an "independent guy" and, at 61, had no real yen to run for re-election in 2010 or to stay in a Senate now firmly in Democratic hands. So he jumped. As he was announced for Commerce secretary, Gregg declared, "This is not a time for partisanship."

Well, as Seth Myers of "Saturday Night Live" would ask, "Really?" Attacked from left and right, burdened by his own second thoughts, Gregg withdrew. When I interviewed him last week, his usual wintry outlook had turned as grim as a gale on Mount Washington. The president and his Democratic allies, Gregg says, wrote a hyperpartisan budget that could bankrupt the nation, weaken the dollar and (thanks to certain parliamentary tactics being employed) undermine the deliberative role of the Senate. "We're heading into very dangerous waters," he says.

In the capital, history becomes ancient in a hurry. The Brigadoon of bipartisanship was a fleeting fantasy. Bereft of new ideas, reduced in numbers, the GOP instinct was to recoil. President Obama was faced with a choice between two types of the "change" he promised: he could try to establish a soothing, we're-all-in-this-together tone or he could try to become Ronald Reagan, the author of a tectonic shift in the philosophy and arithmetic of government. Obama chose the latter. No surprise there--Obama's advisers know the window for legislative shock and awe doesn't stay open long (Reagan's didn't). …

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