"Bipartisanship" are virtually worshiped by the mainstream corporate press whenever even a hint of a "threat" of liberal reform is in the air. Always when there's a Democrat in the White House, it's the warmest and fuzziest of warm-and-fuzzy notions, something toward which all Democratic politicians should strive and of which only a madman wouldn't recognize the merits.
It's also a concept that has, in and of itself, absolutely no value. Embraced as a virtue, it's actively pernicious. Cooperation and compromise between competing political factions are a necessary feature of a functioning liberal democracy. They're what one is willing to do in the name of a larger good in order to get things done. In a two-party state that's already virtually a one-party state though, "bipartisanship" in the way it's meant by those who are forever pimping it is something very different: even less choice for a public that is already denied any real choice at the ballot box.
Scott Erb, his World in Motion, used the circumstance of Sen. Even Bayh's decision to retire from congress to write some thoughts about "bipartisanship." He defines it differently from most of the "bipartisanship" pimps; to him, it's typical democratic diplomacy. In his ultimate conclusion though, he's doubtful:
"At base bi-partisanship does not mean anti-partisan. It literally means two partisan groups figuring out how to come to some agreement on how to solve problems, recognizing neither side will be completely happy with the action. It means that even as laws are passed, the debate and discussion continue--no one ever truly wins, no compromise is ever final. It also means that each side recognizes that they do not hold a monopoly on truth, both sides operate on good faith. It means rejecting the kind of personal attacks and venom that too often percolate within the political discourse. It’s only possible when political disagreement is not a cause for personal dislike or disgust. Bayh’s departure indicates that he does not think the politicians in Washington are capable of that kind of productive partisan cooperation. He may be right."
I'd certainly cross out that "may be." I don't think there's any "may be" to it. The "may be" came off of it years ago. Ye humble editor has been warning of the pernicious effects of the sort of "can't-we-all-just-get-along"-ism embraced by the Obama administration since before there was an Obama administration. It's probably the single subject about which I've written more than any other since the birth of this blog. It isn't just that the notion, as it is popularly understood, is bad and limits choice; it's that it isn't even possible in the current political climate, because the Republican party is in the stranglehold of cretins, crackpots and conspiracists who will allow for no compromise, no cooperation with a majority opposition they consider a fundamentally anti-American alien cancer.
The Obama's first year was a frustrating tragedy because he so completely failed to understand this. He prefaced his every major proposal with massive concessions to Republicans, to no avail, except to drive the ultimate policies even further to the right, just as this writer warned would happen, and to help alienate his base. Republicans have been in lock-step opposition, filibustering almost everything--an abuse of the filibuster that has no historical precedent.
Not that these Republicans are actually against all of these things, mind you. Rather, Republicans have made a conscious decision to oppose anything of any significance supported by the Obama.
Examples demonstrating this are legion.
The Obama himself recently noted the fate of the PAYGO bill, which would have required new programs be paid for by cutting existing ones; as soon as the Obama announced his support for it, seven Republican Senators who had co-written the bill (four of whom had voted in favor of identical legislation four years earlier) flip-flopped and came out against it.
The same thing happened with the proposed debt commission: five Republican co-authors of the legislation jumped ship the moment the Obama announced his support for it.
When the Obama proposed a freeze on non-military spending, the same thing happened. Even John McCain, who had made such a freeze a part of his presidential platform, flip-flopped.
In an effort to draw Republican votes, the Obama larded up his "stimulus" bill with the wasteful, less stimulative tax cuts favored by Republicans. All but two Republicans in the Senate voted against it. The rest made a grand show of ranting against the "socialist" bill in outlets like Fox News, and going on about how it wouldn't work but, as liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow documented last week, 29 of those same Republicans who voted against and denounced the bill then went to their home states and took credit for the projects it was helping fund and praised its effectiveness. [see Update below]
When the Obama was given the opportunity to nominate a new Supreme Court Justice--a very important nomination that would have allowed him to begin to redress the insane rightward imbalance of the court--he chose, instead, another damn conservative. Republicans denounced her as a racist and 31 of the 40 Repub Senators voted against her.
The Obama began the health care debate by throwing over the side the liberal option (single payer). Wouldn't want to be called a "socialist" by the conservatives, right? He chose, instead, to push for a proposal that mimicked, in every significant particular, health care plans offered by Republicans for decades. The Obama initially added a "public option" that would have amounted to some little bit of real reform but when faced with criticism from the right, he quickly chucked it over the side too. And, of course, Republicans have spent months portraying the industry-friendly, market-based Republican plan adopted by the Obama as a "socialist" government takeover and the newest line making the rounds on the right is that Obama and the Democrats have steadfastly refused to even consider Republican health care ideas.
This is why "bipartisanship" isn't possible in the current political climate. Republicans refuse to work with Democrats on anything, even when Democrats adopt conservative Republican policies. If the Obama ever wants to accomplish anything, he's going to have to come to terms with this basic fact and stop trying to be so accommodating. He's already wasted a year.
UPDATE (2 March, 2010) -- The day after I wrote the above, ThinkProgress released a report documenting the fact that an astonishing 110 congressional Republicans--over half of all of the Republicans in congress--are guilty of "stimulus hypocrisy." They voted to kill the bill, then returned to their home states and districts to take credit for the projects it has funded.