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Obama is Big on Symbolism

Obama is Big on Symbolism

By Jack Kelly - February 17, 2009

At the battle of Asculum in 279 BC, the Greek king Pyrrhus defeated a Roman legion, but at frightful cost to his own troops. When sycophantic courtiers congratulated him on his "great victory," Pyrrhus responded: "one more such victory, and we shall be undone."

President Obama plans to celebrate his Asculum -- passage of the (at least) $787 billion "stimulus" bill -- with a signing ceremony in Denver Tuesday. Sycophantic liberal commentators hailed this as a great victory for the president, but it comes at the cost of the illusion Mr. Obama represents a change from the corrupt old ways of Washington.

Candidate Obama promised a new openness in government. But the biggest spending bill ever was drafted behind closed doors. Candidate Obama pledged to weaken the influence of lobbyists. But lobbyists received copies of the "stimulus" bill before lawmakers did. Candidate Obama pledged a bipartisan approach to government. But not a single Republican in the House, and only three in the Senate, voted for it.

Mr. Obama is fond of the appearance of bipartisanship. He nominated three Republicans to his Cabinet. He's dined with conservative columnists, and invited several GOP lawmakers to watch the Super Bowl with him.

But Mr. Obama is like a young man who expects a girl to put out if he buys her a hamburger and a beer. If he were more concerned about the substance of bipartisanship, he'd have insisted upon a stimulus package more Republicans could support, and he wouldn't now be looking for his third nominee for Secretary of Commerce.

Sen. Gregg withdrew, citing "irreconcilable differences" over the stimulus package. The more important reason was because the president had made it clear Sen. Gregg was just to be window dressing. The Commerce secretary has only one important job, to oversee the decennial census. If illegal aliens are counted as citizens, several House seats could be shifted from the Republicans to the Democrats after the next reapportionment. Cheating is the Chicago Way, but Sen. Gregg is both honest and a Republican. He couldn't be counted on to cheat. So the president announced oversight of the census would be shifted to the White House. This is probably illegal, and it made Sen. Gregg look like a chump. So he did the only thing an honorable man could do.

With so many of the president's nominees having to withdraw because of ethical problems, it was refreshing to have one withdraw because he had ethics. But several of the president's courtiers in the news media described Sen. Gregg's resignation, and the paucity of GOP votes for the porkalooza, as evidence of a Republican "war" against Mr. Obama.

"Their clear intent is to do all they can, however they can, to sabotage the new administration," wrote Andrew Sullivan in the Atlantic. Mr. Sullivan and others of his ilk see nothing partisan in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's exclusion of Republicans from the drafting of the stimulus bill; in the president's refusal to make meaningful compromises, or in the transfer of census oversight to the White House.

President Obama is very big on symbolism. He is signing the bill in Denver, the city where he was nominated for president, on Tuesday (in violation of his pledge to have at least five days elapse between passage of a law and his signing of it to allow time for public comment), because Tuesday is four weeks precisely since his inauguration.

Symbolism is important. But presidents ultimately are judged on substance.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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