There’s a weird vibe in this East Coast town as a political hurricane approaches today. Nervous Democrats are boarding up storefronts and duct-taping windows. Drunken Republicans are hosting stormwatch parties and running with surfboards headlong into the wind. Everybody is predicting massive structural damage and foundational shifts. In one respect, though, nothing will change after the final votes come in, regardless of whatever surprises are in store. Partisanship will still reign supreme in this town. And I, for one, am glad of it.
Notice I said still reign supreme. I recall taking a job in the House of Representatives more than a decade ago, when Democratic members--still stunned from the carnage of 1994--complained that hard-edged ideologues and partisans were killing congressional decorum and civility. Before Republicans seized control, they said, members of opposite parties could debate the issues during the day and then go off together and laugh over drinks in the evening. I suspect such inebriated hilarity was a lot easier when the Democrats ruled the House for decades with such iron majorities that “bipartisanship” merely meant throwing a few bones to the minority party. Bipartisanship is easy when there’s no bi.
After the Democrats staged their own coup in 2006, you could hear some Republicans suddenly whining about the lack of bipartisanship, how the Iron Lady of San Francisco was ramming legislation down the throats of Republicans.
It wasn’t until the mainstream media coronated Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign and declared that a “post-partisan” president would walk among us that expectations changed. Largely transcribed from the campaign rhetoric of the Obama campaign itself, media reports informed us that Obama would rise above the bickering of past presidents and inspire a colony of lotus eaters on Capitol Hill to follow his bold vision for a better Europe--er, America.
Luckily an opposition party still existed, timid though they initially were. Soon, however, the Post-Partisan President encountered opposition to his plans for government-run healthcare, cap-and-trade enviromania, pseudo-nationalization of private industries, regulatory Tourette’s, and unfettered deficit spending. The American people, it seems, are not ready to go the social-democratic way of Paris and rioting unions.
It turns out that Obama is mortal, like Jefferson and Madison (two of the most bare-knuckled presidents in American history) before him. Political brawls are as ingrained into the American system of politics as horse-trading, scandal, and oppo research. Facing defeats to his agenda and revolt among voters, the Post-Partisan President now speaks of defeating his “enemies.” (Whether those enemies are all voters who have grown disillusioned with his sweeping agenda or only those with an R behind their names is unclear.)
Good for him, I say.
I don’t begrudge Barack Obama’s fight. Quite frankly, I pray his party stays strong enough to keep the Republicans in check. Not so strong as to maintain control of the White House or Congress. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a masochist. Neither, however, do I want a return to an era of monopartisanship. Not even with Republicans. When high on the helium of power, they are as deranged as the Democrats.
There is this media-driven concept of a kind of golden rule of “bipartisanship,” one that portrays conflicting ideas as political sin. Republicans were monotonously portrayed in the media as partisan obstructionists during the healthcare debate, opposed to reform at any cost. Poppycock. Like the majority of the American people, the Republicans were opposed to government-run healthcare--not to reform itself. And it is a good thing that they were there to oppose the Democrats’ overreach.
Compromise and negotiation, however, is also ingrained into the American political system, as much as partisan warfare. The people do expect government, when it must get involved, to solve the problems with which it is tasked. While the public is opposed to the leftish arrogance of Obamacare, for example, the Republicans would be damn fools to arrive in Washington without a plan of their own to fix healthcare. Then they must do what the Democrats failed to: Listen to the public and go only as far as America is willing to go.
Maybe we should replace this concept of a need for bipartisanship with a need for politicians to listen to their constituents. George W. Bush failed to listen--and splintered the Republican majority when he left Afghanistan for Iraq. Barack Obama failed to listen--and splintered the Democratic majority when he … well, we have only so much space.
So here’s a toast to partisanship--in the most bipartisan of fashions: May both parties have the grit to argue like dogs over a bone, and the wit to let go before their teeth are yanked out.