For swing voters, the appeal of bipartisanship is that, in theory, a bill endorsed across the spectrum will balance the party's two animating creeds. In their guts, most moderates understand that the spirit of free enterprise animates American dynamism and that red tape too frequently gets in the way. But they also know that the market, left unhinged, is akin to a class of 3-year-olds left alone with a jar of cookies. The strong will gorge, the weak will suffer, and when the teacher returns, the classroom will be entirely dysfunctional.
A bipartisan bill, voters presume, balances the two dogmas for the better. While health reform, shrouded in the simplistic, hyperbolic rhetoric of its opponents, was frequently controversial, its constituent parts, supported in a variety of cases by both progressives and conservatives, rarely were. As its effects become real, shattering the fantastic visions of the Marxist regime some conservatives believed would emerge, the public will come to see that the package was bipartisan in substance, if not in the vote tally on Capitol Hill. And for that reason, the plan will eventually be a boon to many more Democrats.
In the end, the real fight in Washington is not whether to reach across the aisle. It is which of the parties can better build an agenda that reflects the vital center. Republican indolence, for whatever reason, is not sufficient reason to abandon the progressive pursuit of bipartisanship. Our political capital will grow if we reassure swing voters that we are committed to the type of agenda bipartisanship engenders. If progressives want to keep their hands on the levers of power, we ought to keep our eye on the electorate's broad middle, and pursue a policy agenda that reflects their understanding of Washington.