They are not, and will not be, credible partners

THEY ARE NOT, AND WILL NOT BE, CREDIBLE PARTNERS…. After having asked to be considered for the cabinet, Judd Gregg withdrew from consideration. But note how the New Hampshire Republican chose to make his announcement: Gregg released a statement just as President Obama was poised to give a speech about the stimulus package. A Democratic Hill staffer told David Kurtz, “The classy exit would have been to wait til tomorrow afternoon to quietly bow out. Basically Gregg decided not just to politely decline, but rather to blow shit up and burn the bridge behind him.”

It’s hardly surprising, then, that White House aides believe “it is now clear that Obama has not been rewarded for reaching across the aisle.” You don’t say.

Paul Krugman noted today that congressional Republicans, instead of acting “chastened” after electoral and governmental failure, remain committed to “deep voodoo,” and arguments that have “bordered on the deranged.”

Given all of this, Andrew Sullivan argues that the Republican Party has “declared war” on the president.

Their clear and open intent is to do all they can, however they can, to sabotage the new administration (and the economy to boot). They want failure. Even now. Even after the last eight years. Even in a recession as steeply dangerous as this one. There are legitimate debates to be had; and then there is the cynicism and surrealism of total political war. We now should have even less doubt about what kind of people they are.

Tough stuff, to be sure. The question, I suppose, is what the White House — and a president who’s repeatedly committed to trying to find common ground with the failed minority party — is going to do about it. If Sullivan is right, and the Republican Party is driven by a combination of partisan schemes and a desire to see Obama fail, how will the administration respond?

Joe Klein argues, persuasively, that the president “should have no illusions about the good faith of his opponents.”

Obama should now understand that the Republicans are not reliable partners — at least, not for the moment. Most are stuck in the contentious past, rutted in Reaganism, intent on taking a Hooverist course on the economy (although there remains cause for optimism on foreign policy). The President’s default position, after the stimulus fight and the Gregg fiasco, should be to appoint Democrats to significant domestic policy positions — the notion of making a public show of bipartisanship, by reaching across the aisle to someone like Senator Gregg, gives the opposition too much credibility and leverage.

Which doesn’t mean that Obama shouldn’t remain as conciliatory, and open to constructive Republican ideas, as he has been. There are potential long-term benefits from such openness (and short-term benefit as well, since the public clearly believes that Obama has been more reasonable than the Republicans).

It may seem callous somehow for the White House to assume bad faith from his opponents. Maybe Republicans are sincere in their ridiculous arguments, perhaps they don’t realize their policies are destructive; maybe it only seems like they’d put partisan considerations above the interests of the country.

Can we drop the charade now?