The end of hope?

President Obama campaigned for office with a message of hope – of changing the political climate in Washington.  And he has tried mightily.  He has consistently reached out to Republicans for ideas and support.  Not since Lincoln has a President tried to appoint so many members of the opposition party to his Cabinet. 

Yet in the issues that matter most, President Obama has not garnered a single Republican vote.  Not on the much-needed stimulus package.  Not on the loans to automakers.  And, so far, not on health care.

Indeed, the Republican response to his efforts for bipartisanship may be best summarized by Congressman Joe Wilson’s outburst, “You lie!” screamed at the President during his speech calling for health care reform. 

In the charade of bipartisanship seen at most Presidential speeches before a joint session of Congress, Joe Wilson’s rant was rude and outrageously disrespectful.  Yet compared to the stone faces and scowls of Republican legislators sitting on their hands, it had a certain authenticity.  All Wilson did was bring the ugliness that has been displayed at so-called “Town Hall Meetings” and on conservative talk radio into the Capitol chamber.   

Were other Republicans so forthright, we would have been treated to shouts of “Socialist”, “Nazi”, “Communist”, “Death Panels”, “Pull the plug on Granny” and “Show us your birth certificate!”

Of course, Republicans like Sen. Kyl, Sen. Grassley, Sen. Coburn and Sen. Enzi prefer not to confront their Democratic colleagues with such unpleasantness.  They would rather make their disrespectful and inane rants in front of crowds comprised of uninformed conservatives, and on Fox News Network where no commentator or host would consider challenging such statements.

Now President Obama has drawn a line in the sand.  He has stated that he will hold opponents accountable for their distortions and lies.  However, I believe that the President will not give up on bipartisanship easily.  I believe he will keep trying to change the tone of political conversation for as long as he is in office. 

Despite his efforts, I can’t imagine that Republicans will cease their cynical and mean-spirited attacks.  They will continue to pander to their ever more conservative and uninformed base.  And, of course, they will continue to provide red meat to Fox News Network and conservative talk radio.  The only real question is whether or not the independents and moderates will reward such cynical and partisan rhetoric  by voting for Republicans. 

I am becoming less and less hopeful.