Bonnie and I weighed in last week on the differences between bipartisanship and post-partisanship, so I was interested in the Washington Post piece today detailing the Obama administration's reactions to recent party-line votes on the stimulus plan and expanding children's healthcare, and in E.J. Dionne's column today delineating the dangers of the measures of bipartisanship.
From the Post:
But the White House did not view the rejection of Obama's initial bid at fostering bipartisanship as a stinging disappointment. Even as Obama was unable to pick up their votes, he was left with many Republicans praising his outreach. And judging by Obama's record, it is this tone of mutual respect that—at least for now—he may be after as much as actual votes on bills he could pass without significant GOP backing.
Changing the tone of debate, even without changing the outcome, may be an ephemeral goal, but it is still important in terms of more easily finding common ground where it is possible down the line.
But as Dionne points out, there's a danger that a distinction is so ephemeral that its importance gets lost amid vote counts. There is, E.J. writes:
a rapidly forming conventional wisdom that would allow them to claim victory only if their economic stimulus package passes with substantial Republican support...
Changing the tone is important, he writes, but:
If achieving bipartisanship takes priority over the actual content of policy, Republicans are handed a powerful weapon. In theory, they can keep moving the bipartisan bar indefinitely. And each concession to their sensibilities threatens the solidarity in the president's own camp.
He's right—good legislation should not be held hostage to the desires of a party that, after all, just got drubbed in the November elections.
But we shouldn't conflate bipartisanship with tone-changing. The president is right in that we're not always going to agree, but we can disagree civilly.
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