Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wilson, not Clemenceau

The signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, to end the Great War, resulted in one of history's more difficult lessons. While American President Woodrow Wilson advocated for a just peace for the defeated Germans, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau had other plans. Clemenceau believed that Germany should be harshly punished for WW1, and forced the Germans to sign the Treaty of Versailles. Germany was humiliated, its people were embittered, and its currency and economy collapsed. Twenty two years later, the French were surrendering to Adolf Hitler. In contrast to Clemenceau, Abraham Lincoln set into motion a reconstruction program to rebuild what was left of the Confederacy after the Civil War. The Marshall Plan rebuilt Germany and Europe after WW2, and the United States also helped Japan rebuild and write a new constitution.

With the passage of health care reform, the Republicans have been roundly defeated and arguably humiliated. The GOP seems as extreme, weak, and as desperate as ever. Rather than let Democrats gloat and bask in their victory, President Obama should extend the Republicans a hand. In the latest Gallup Poll there was a hidden gem: 48% of Americans call the bill a good first step which should be followed by more action on health care. The health care system will still need serious structural reforms, and Obama should invite Republicans to play a part in crafting them. At this point, Obama doesn't need Republicans. Obama's bill is law, and if Republicans want to leave it as is, so be it. But there is no doubt that there is more that can be improved, and there are no doubt some good Republican ideas on how to do so. This is the best moment to invite bipartisanship and cooperation. Obama needs to empower the moderates in the GOP, the ones who advocated a deal on HCR in the beginning. The country needs this more than ever. Worst case, if the Republicans say no, people will think more of Obama for offering, and less of Republicans for refusing.

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