What exactly is the point of bipartisanship?
Today at TMV I was captivated by a post by Pete Abel entitled, “Bipartisan Cooperation: Maybe There’s Hope.” The piece itself talks about the cooperation on a non binding slap to the White House on Iraq, but I wonder how much the “hope” for cooperation has been thought through.
The rightwing base isn’t interested in a Democratic Lite GOP, nor is the netroots desperate for a Republican Lite Democratic Party. It’s true that many people are in the middle politically, but of those who are engaged in politics it’s not that they don’t have opinions so much as their opinions don’t align to any single platform. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – the argument has long been that moderates do stand for things and they do have opinions, they just aren’t in lockstep with a “movement” or subservient to an outside agenda.
It has often been said that most people, when they speak of bipartisanship, really mean, “You be bi while I’m partisan.” With that in mind it is interesting to look at a recent Pew study, as Chris Stoller at MyDD did, which shows a public unified on the idea of bipartisanship, but disinterested in compromising their own principles on any major issue.
Three in four respondents say they like politicians who are willing to compromise, but nearly 7 in 10 say they like politicians who stick to their positions even when unpopular. In other words, bipartisanship and gridlock both have veto proof majorities.
It gets even stickier when looking at actual issues. Nearly 3/4 responded that absolutely no compromise is possible on abortion. And you’re in within the margin of error of majorities on the environment, immigration, Iraq, and tax policy.
As Bowers notes:
The next time the public doesn’t like someone because s/he or is a “flip flopper,” perhaps they should look themselves in the mirror. More importantly, the next time a pundit or reporter states that the country is looking for compromise and bipartisanship, they should note that the country doesn’t know what exactly it wants compromise on, and that they also like leaders who stand on principle.
I’m all in favor of good government – and I’ve voted for candidates of both parties as circumstances warranted. The problem is that most of the time people who favor bipartisanship don’t really have a clear grasp of what types of policies are to result from the groundswell of good karma. The least objectionable path isn’t always the one which ultimately leads to the greatet good.
Consider this from the Omaha College Democrats Blog
My fear from the beginning, when Nelson and Warner came out with this tamer resolution, was that it set the bar so low, no progress could come from it. In the name of getting as many Republican Senators to sign on as possible, the proposal was basically neutered of any effectiveness. And the further right you go on something, you inevitably will lose someone on the left. This couldn’t be any more transparent a political ploy if they tried: it’s simply a meaningless resolution designed to give cover to Senators like Warner and Collins who have to seek reelection in 2008.
Exactly. I am often wont to cite an eleventh commandment, “Cover thine own.” But it’s true. Resolutions like the one Abel hails are largely symbolic, designed to provide political cover to both sides of the aisle, not actually solve any of the questions that will still need to be addressed.
Liberaltopia has good words too. Yes compromise is sometimes necessary. But:
The thing is, our system is set up, in both the courts and in Congress, to be adversarial and partisan. The competition of ideas keeps democracies from bogging down in the sludge of one-party rule and narrow-minded thinking.
All in all…some perspective is in order. Bipartisanship for its own sake accomplishes nothing. Compromise when appropriate, and always seek out the best solution for a given situation. But when the opposition is WRONG they must be opposed. And don’t apologize for it.