Political Notebook

GOP critics walk fine line in opposing president's policies

SOLEMN MOMENT - President Obama, accompanied by past recipients of the National Medal of Honor, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia yesterday. SOLEMN MOMENT - President Obama, accompanied by past recipients of the National Medal of Honor, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia yesterday. (Gerald Herbert/ Associated Press)
March 26, 2009
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How do you separate policies from the person?

It is more than an academic riddle these days, as President Obama's Republican critics gingerly walk the tightrope of opposing his economic and other plans without being accused of being unpatriotic.

Conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh started it even before Obama's inauguration in January by saying that he hoped Obama would fail because he objected to many of Obama's policies.

At a GOP fund-raiser Tuesday night, while Obama was defending his proposals in a prime-time news conference, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana poured some fuel on the rhetorical fire.

He described the premise of the question - "Do you want the president to fail?" - as the "latest gotcha game" that Democrats were using to bludgeon Republicans.

"Anything other than an immediate and compliant, 'Why no sir, I don't want the president to fail,' is treated as some sort of act of treason, civil disobedience, or political obstructionism," said Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012. "This is political correctness run amok."

Yesterday on CNN, former senator Fred Thompson, who ran for the GOP nomination last year, agreed with Republicans hoping for an Obama flameout. "I want his policies that I believe take us in the wrong direction to fail," Thompson said.

Asked on MSNBC yesterday whether he wants Obama to fail on his budget, Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire replied, "clearly, this budget needs to be rewritten, and it needs to be redone, and we're willing to do it in a bipartisan way."

But Gregg, once Obama's choice for Commerce secretary, said, "I really don't want the president to fail. If the president fails, the country fails."


Iraq ambassador nominee has moment of trepidation
WASHINGTON - Like a baseball relief pitcher hoping to preserve a late comeback, veteran diplomat Christopher Hill has one overriding fear as he contemplates being the next ambassador to Iraq.

"I just don't want to screw it up," the nominee told senators yesterday.

That blunt statement reflects both an admiration for the accomplishments of his predecessor in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, who helped lead a turnaround in the war, and a worry that the gains still could unravel.

Hill's lack of experience in the Middle East had led some Republicans to urge President Obama to reconsider the nomination.

Still, Hill sailed through his hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose chairman, Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, said he was confident Hill was the right person for the job and that the committee would vote on the nomination next week.

Once it reaches the full Senate, the nomination could run into more concerted opposition. Leading it has been Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, a Republican who accuses Hill of misleading Congress last year about pressing North Korea on human rights issues while he was the Bush administration's chief US negotiator on the country's nuclear program.

Hill called the dispute a misunderstanding with Brownback.

Addressing the experience issue, Hill said his years of diplomatic work in the Balkans and as the chief negotiator on North Korea would serve him well in Baghdad. "When I see some of these problems we've had in Iraq, it does have a sort of 'deja-vu-all-over-again' feel to it," he said.

Crocker and his two predecessors, John Negroponte and Zalmay Khalilzad, have endorsed Hill's nomination.


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