Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Bipartisanship of the Start Treaty

E. J. Dionne on the Start Treaty and its lessons:
The ratification of the New START treaty was a victory for common sense and the national interest. It was a defeat for a particularly acidic form of partisanship. Are there lessons for the future in how the treaty's ratification was achieved?

President Obama was unambiguous about the importance of this issue to him and relentless in both personal diplomacy with members of the Senate and in gathering impressive outside support. The endorsement of the treaty by secretaries of state of the past five Republican administrations was critical. It made it easier for Republican senators to vote yes, and it undercut the rationale for opposing the treaty offered by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and his allies. Perhaps Obama's approach here can't work on every issue, but his uncompromising clarity, his willingness to lay his credibility on the line and his full-court press in bringing in outside partners could serve him well on other issues.

He also had in Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a champion who did everything right when it came to managing the process. All of Kerry's best traits were on display here: his relentless work ethic, his methodical approach to directing the hearings on the treaty and the quiet passion he brings to the cause of arms control. Democrats would do well to figure out similarly appropriate matches of senators and House members to particular issues.

And maybe, just maybe, the list of Republicans willing to join with the Democratic majority on this question provides a roster for potential moderate and moderate-conservative allies on other matters in the next Congress. Ten of the 13 Republican senators who voted yes will be back next year: Lamar Alexander, Scott Brown, Thad Cochran, Susan Collins, Bob Corker, Johnny Isakson, Mike Johanns, Richard Lugar, Lisa Murkowski and Olympia Snowe. I am under no illusions that it will be easy for Republican senators to escape the ferocious pressure to stick with their party. But having declared their independence this time, perhaps it will be a bit easier the next.

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