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.]