Obama and the Republicans

John Heilemann has an interesting new column on Obama's "vexing bind": how to attack the Republicans while reaching out to moderates like Scott Brown. Complicating that task, which is "mildly schizophrenic" to begin with, he says, are divisions within the Democratic party.

There's a certain grim irony in the difficulties the White House has confronted in moving its agenda on the Hill--because to no small extent, they are rooted in a stunning success that chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had in his previous life. Together with Chuck Schumer on the Senate side, Emanuel was as responsible as anyone for recruiting the kinds of Democratic candidates who could beat Republicans in relatively conservative districts and states in 2006 and 2008. The results were impressive majorities in both houses, but with two unpleasant side effects: a Democratic Party with a substantial Blue Dog wing that sees political benefit in resisting the White House, and a Republican Party stripped down largely to its irreducible right-wing core, which sees no upside in compromise.

Heilemann wonders whether Obama might have got more done if the Dems' majority in the House had been smaller--with, say, 25 moderate Republicans taking the place of 25 moderate Democrats. That would have made bipartisanship a more realistic prospect.

He also asks, are there still even 50 votes in the Senate for the healthcare bill? Good question. In the column I just wrote on the filibuster, I tried to explain why Democrats are reluctant to change the filibuster rule even though they could: doing so would not solve the underlying problem, which is that the bill is unpopular in the country. But Heilemann's question prompts a further thought: if there are no longer even 50 votes for the measure, the filibuster actually helps Democrats. It gives them cover. It lets them blame Republican nihilism rather than their own divisions for the failure.