Lamar Alexander’s revisionist history

LAMAR ALEXANDER’S REVISIONIST HISTORY…. The NYT has an interesting piece today about the utility of the White House’s health care reform strategy this year. “President Obama’s arms-length strategy on health care appears to be paying dividends,” the piece notes.

But towards the end of the piece, we get a familiar argument that isn’t improving with time.

…White House officials have shown little interest in Republicans, with the exception of Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, whom they have wooed assiduously, and one or two others. Mr. Obama did meet with some Republicans early on, when his aides still believed it was possible to get the support of Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee.

The No. 3 Republican in the Senate, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who attended one session with the president, recalled that in the 1960s, when he was a Congressional aide, Democrats and Republicans worked together on civil rights. He said he saw no possibility of a bipartisan health bill.

“White House officials don’t want one or don’t know how to do one,” Mr. Alexander said.

As should be obvious, the difference between the 1960s and contemporary politics is that, a half-century ago, there was a vibrant center-left contingent of the Republican Party that made bipartisan negotiations feasible.

But just as important, this entire strain of thought is fundamentally flawed. The White House “shown little interest in Republicans”? As I recall, in April, the president hosted a meeting with congressional Republicans about finding some common ground. When Obama made some specific recommendations about areas where he was willing to make concessions, he asked GOP leaders where they might be willing to budge. They offered literally nothing in return.

In the ensuing months, Republicans savagely attacked the very idea of health care reform, even rejecting ideas they’d already endorsed. When Max Baucus produced a more conservative, industry-friendly bill, GOP leaders rejected it anyway.

The Senate Minority Whip said no matter how many concessions Democrats were willing to make, Republicans would oppose reform. Some even conceded publicly that some of the GOP opposition was driven entirely by political considerations — they would fight reform, regardless of merit, specifically in the hopes of undermining the White House.

Now, the opposition party is supposed to oppose the majority’s agenda. There’s nothing especially wrong with that. But for the NYT to insist that White House officials “have shown little interest in Republicans,” and for Lamar Alexander to argue that the president’s team isn’t interested in bipartisan solutions is simply at odds with reality.