February 24th, 2009

That elusive goal: bipartisanship

Bipartisanship—what’s not to like?

It’s a goal Obama talked about quite a bit while on the campaign trail, as did McCain. Obama is not unique in having paid lip service to bipartisanship when it was of benefit to him during the election and then dumping it when he didn’t need it to pass some of the most polarizing—and partisan—legislation in history. That’s politics, folks.

But surprise surprise, I’m going to defend Obama for his failure to be bipartisan. The generalized yearning for bipartisanship has always reminded me of the old Rodney King plea, “Why can’t we all just get along?” The answer is—”because we can’t, that’s why.” And that failure is—to coin a phrase—a bipartisan one.

If we could agree, we would. The fact that we don’t is a reflection of the reality that goals differ, and that even when they are the same there is disagreement on what course to take to best reach them.

People sometimes say there’s no difference between the two parties because all politicians are crooks, hypocrites, liars, and self-serving cheats—and the people who say that have a point. But politicians from different parties are a different flavor of crooks, hypocrites, liars, and self-serving cheats, as well as including a smattering of upstanding public servants. Depending on which party is in power at any moment, we are going to see different laws and different policies, with different results.

One would hope that, in the current financial crisis, we would all be able to pull together in a bipartisan way to make things better for everyone. That would be great, if it weren’t for two things: (a) most politicians see crisis as an opportunity to solidify their power and the power of their respective parties; and (2) in the present case, most politicians disagree on the seriousness of the crisis, its causes, and what approach will improve matters. Those are very real differences that are not easily resolved by chanting “bipartisanship” as a mantra.

Most of the bipartisanship in American history has occurred either on trivial issues, or in the passing of bills that nobody ended up liking (McCain-Feingold, anyone?), or in times of defense after a clear and unprovoked attack (Pearl Harbor, immediate post-9/11).

Otherwise, as they say in Brooklyn—faggetaboutit.

[NOTE: Bipartisanship is different from the law of thirds. The latter is simply the principle that if either party goes too far off center in its grab for power and influence, it may alienate the moderate American middle and lose the next election. That is, of course, unless they change the rules in order to further entrench their power, or control the airwaves and print media to such an extent that they control the message. Hmmm.]

13 Responses to “That elusive goal: bipartisanship”

  1. Baklava Says:

    I agree.

    Compromise means both parties (in compromise) aren’t getting what they wanted.

    I wish we had educated more people about economics 101 and the danger or picking and choosing winner and loser businesses and then propping up those we chose.

    I wish we had educated people about the only money the government has is what it takes from productive hard working americans and businesses (successful). Pulling money from the private sector is fine for national security and the safety net but picking and choosing winner and loser businesses and paying people who can’t pay their bills when they CHOSE extremely high standard of living?

    What about personal responsibility.

    I did NOT buy a house when prices were high. I’m buying now.

    When prices were high I saved money and invested.

    Those investments are left alone (I will not sell low). Now that there is affordable housing people are mad because they bought at the peak and are upside down in value. They are walking away. The debt is toxic. That is ok. Allow people to take losses. That is what TEACHES people about basic economics. What TEACHES people about the importance of saving and buying low and selling high is learning the hard way. I guarantee a whole segment of people in America will not buy at the peak of a market again.


    …. The government rewards poor choices

  2. vanderleun Says:

    It has long, long been the case that liberal/leftist/democrats have seen the conservative/fundamentalist/Republicans as enemies.

    The sooner we see them as enemies the better.

  3. Baklava Says:

    Though vanderleun. Rank and file liberals are “well-intentioned”, have “rose-colored glasses” and want to “do-good”.

    That isn’t the problem.

    The problem is that their solutions exacerbate problems.

    Conservatives know that it is better to teach a man to fish than give him fish and that is born of love.

    We NEED to educate as many liberals as possible about what we believe and the results of policies between the two of us.

    That is how I was converted from liberalism in 1991 and that is how the African American that I converted from liberalism in 1999 (he voted for McCain) came around.

    The Mitsu’s of the world may never be convinced. But the masses are learning at a fast pace right now. This is the time to teach. This is the time to appeal to a rank and file with reason and logic.

    Michael Steele, you, me, Neo, whomever will not convince anybody if we tell that person that they are the enemy.

    Because they know they aren’t

  4. gcotharn Says:

    Could it be that many Congresspersons – and esp. many Dems – believe the economy is so big and strong that it will roll along no matter what legislation is passed? If they privately believe this: they’ve no incentive to pass economic legislation for any reason other than to entrench their own power.

  5. Tom Says:

    Negotiation to a compromise only works if BOTH negotiants are willing to move off their initial positions. If not, the solitary mover is always the LOSER.

  6. Richard Says:

    Neo, the reason we say there is no difference between the two parties is deeper than what you cite in your post, although those attributes are also true.

    No, the main thing that makes them alike is that they are both in agreement that our rights and freedoms need to be surrendered to the State “for our own good”. The democrats want us to surrender our income because we’re too stupid to know we should spend it on some sort of health insurance. The republicans want to take away our personal freedoms because we’re too stupid to know what to say or who we should get in bed with.

    That we are inexorably creeping towards socialism and the religion of the state as the One, True Way is a phenomenon shared by republicans and democrats. To those republicans who are now screaming about how anyone could pass the Porkulus bill without reading it, where the hell were you when the Patriot Act was being passed in the same fashion? To you democrats who howled about G.W. Bush’s budget deficits, where the hell were you when this giant pile of spending was placed on the docket? Its not that they’re all hypocrites, but that they fundamentally agree on the biggest thread to our personal liberties: encroachment of the State into every facet of our lives. When Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch agree on legislation, there’s only one thing you can know for sure: you’re screwed.

  7. Baklava Says:

    Richard generalized, “The republicans want to take away our personal freedoms because we’re too stupid to know what to say or who we should get in bed with.

    Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    I know it’s hard for social liberals to grasp life.

    If the comment is about drugs – it hurts more than just yourself.

    If the comment is about gay marriage – CA JUST passed prop 8. CA! The state that voted Obama in by about 20% difference. If you want to generalize go ahead. But you don’t persuade anybody.

    Richard wept, “where the hell were you when the Patriot Act was being passed in the same fashion?

    1) There are checks and balances in the Patriot act. Read it. Read both sides of the debate on this topic. Plenty of resources.
    2) The bill was NOT rushed through as quickly as you seem to think.

    What liberty was taken away from you with the Patriot act. The right to walk into a plane without having your shoes removed? Whatever!!! The right to talk to a terrorist without being monitored who calls you from abroad? OK!!! The right to contribute huge financial sums to CAIR? Sure!!!

    Sorry you feel bad!

  8. Jennifer Says:

    I agree with your assessment in the sense that finding common ground on platforms of such completely opposite ideologies is rather unreasonable, and in fact, only possible through compromise neither liberals nor conservatives can stomach.

    But I disagree in with your assessment of Obama’s efforts to achieve bipartisanship as a failure. Obama seems to be a rather long view guy, and I doubt very seriously he expected any sweeping Republican Congressional support for this stimulus package. But I do think his outreach and inclusive nature have laid the groundwork for some potentially powerful meeting of the mindsets down the road. He’s not looking for instant gratification or miracles in this “work together for the common good” approach. He’s looking for a means to an end that results in communication, sharing of ideas, and a “best of the best” rising to the top between public servants who, at the heart of the matter, regardless of party, serve one constituent: the American people.

  9. Tater Says:

    That is, of course, unless they change the rules in order to further entrench their power, or control the airwaves and print media to such an extent that they control the message. Hmmm.]

    Or control the census…


  10. Lee Says:

    Boy, Jennifer, isn’t he the greatest thing since sliced bread? What’s next? World peace? The cure for cancer? Harmonic convergence?
    He’s so good, he brings out the best in everyone around him, huh? An overflowing cup, filled with the cream of human kindness.
    It’s just gonna take a little longer for all that to rub off on others?

  11. FredHjr Says:

    I know the collectivists’ minds and the provenance of their ideas all too well. Thoroughly. I used to be one of them. But I am not now and never want to be again. I don’t agree with much on their side of the aisle anymore and I don’t want to compromise. The worldviews of the classical liberal vs. the collectivists are like water and oil. As for the social issues… tell Richard I am not really interested in who he wants to go to bed with. It’s none of my business. If homos want to bed each other, that’s their business. Not mine. In many states now they have legalized partnerships, so they can leave each other property outside of probate without problems. They can name each other as beneficiaries and they can share health insurance benefits. I’ve got no problem with that. But if we say, by legislative fiat or by voters’ referendums that marriage should be defined as being between one man and one woman, that’s the law. For my part, I am a traditionalist and I agree that the tradition should remain the status quo. If that makes me a vile “fundamentalist” religious freak who supposedly hates homos, well, sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me…

  12. Ymarsakar Says:

    It isn’t bipartisanship we need. It is a Loyal Opposition opposing those currently in Power.

    The Dems simply refuse to provide this balance to our system, which makes our system imbalanced and eventually it is going to head off a cliff and keep falling

  13. Oblio Says:

    The lion and the calf shall lie down together but the calf won’t get much sleep. –Woody Allen

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.


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