Is Bipartisanship Worth the Hassle?

Not anymore.

Political myths have value — it’s been true for at least 2,072 years, since a young emperor convinced the entire city of Rome that monarchy was either a necessary step towards, or in fact equivalent to, “restoring the Republic.” Stateside, our most enduring and present myth remains that of bipartisanship. Even when securing partisan victories, we expect our leaders to work towards reconciliation, rather to foster division. Whether or not one intends to actually occupy the center ground is almost irrelevant: the perception that one does occupy it is all that matters. Indeed, it’s the rare candidate who attains (or retains) the Presidency without appearing to be a moderate.

Hence Bush’s 2000 campaign premised on “compassionate conservativism”; Glenn Beck’s pains to cover his divisive, deranged rants with a thin veneer of “bipartisanship” (recall the 9/12 rallies); and Obama’s delay on pushing for, and passing, a meaningful healthcare bill.

The President’s push to the center came to a head early yesterday, as he characterized the opposition as nakedly “ideological”; pledged to secure a bipartisan bill if possible; and took under consideration a “triggered” public option, to satisfy Olympia Snowe (R-ME), a critical vote in the Senate and the bill’s only likely Republican supporter. Thus we enter what will likely be the endgame of an unnecessarily divisive, disturbingly partisan political cycle, the result of which (as it stands) is a true compromise bill, guaranteed to please no-one and secure no Republican support whatsoever. Obama finds himself in the unenviable position, then, of having compromised his principles for a bipartisan consensus that will never come.

Played correctly, this realization should be liberating. The Democrats’ attempts at compromise may have not bought them a healthcare bill, but it has bought them the perception of bipartisanship, which is at least as valuable. Secure in this knowledge, it’s time to embrace realpolitik, and build a bill targeted only to the minimum number of represenentatives required to pass it. Snowe will give us a public option; let’s take it, and finish this thing.



  1. I posted this at a nother blog the other day and everyone seemed to really like it, so i’ll share here:

    There are typically 2 reasons why bipartisanship gets opposed: politics and policy.

    – If the majority party opposes bipartisanship, it’s usually about policy (they think theirs is better and they don’t want to compromise).

    – If the majority party supports bipartisanship, it’s usually about politics (they aren’t positive their plan will work and they want political cover)

    – If the minority party opposes bipartisanship, it’s usually about politics (they don’t want the other side to accomplish anything).

    – If the majority party supports bipartisanship, it’s usually about policy (they are willing to take something over nothing)

    Of course there are all sorts of gray areas…but generally speaking this is a good way to view the approach to bipartisanship.

    To apply this to the healthcare debate, obviously both sides are playing politics. Intelligent Republicans know there are flaws in the healthcare system, but we’d prefer to handle the issue ourselves, so we’re trying to kill it now. Democrats know that there are a lot of question marks around their plans and the potential for failure is high. They want the political cover that comes with an appearance of bipartisanship. So…I think what we’re going to see is a very partisan vote. Democrats will either score a big win or they will go down in flames. There’s no way they can tie this to the Right if in 2012 it looks like it was a major stinker. On the flip side, if it seems to be really improving things, the GOP doesn’t stand a chance against Obama at re-election time.

    1. Err – that last one should read minority.

  2. […] ACG at Submitted to a Candid World examines bipartisanship and perception. […]

  3. I’ve said it before, I think that if we ruin the effectiveness of the bill through compromise, for essentially no additional votes, those good faith efforts will just be something Republicans and others will blame “us” for later.

    Might as well put forth a strong plan.

    1. I think you’re right Oneiroi. Dems have the votes, they supposedly have the ‘madate’… why not stick to their guns and pass what they works? I have no problem with that kind of partisanship. What I don’t trust / respect is a desire for bipartisanship that seems to only demonstratee they aren’t confident enough to go it alone. To me, when you have a fat majority and you’re afraid to use it, it’s a good sign that you aren’t confident in your plans.

  4. Guys,
    The problem with your analyses is they miss the real boat – Mr. Obama and the Democrats have to have “compromise” because they get campaign funds from the same sources as the Republicans, and the Dems know that the spigot can be turned off in a heartbeat. SO they try to play nice with the increasingly child-like Republican Party, and thus we, as citizens loose.

    And Mike,
    When you say

    “Intelligent Republicans know there are flaws in the healthcare system, but we’d prefer to handle the issue ourselves, so we’re trying to kill it now.”

    I’d like to know where those Intelligent Republicans were the last 8 years. I’d also like to know why they aren’t offering a rebuttal plan now. For that matter, what do you mean by “handle the issue ourselves.”

  5. Phillip,

    Democrats can appease their donors without being bipartisan. When you have a large majority bipartisanship is about political cover, nothing more.

    As for competing plans, the Right has offered up plenty of stuff. It’s a popular liberal fib to say that Republicans haven’t offered anything.

  6. Mike,
    I wasn’t suggesting that appeasment was about bipartisanship; rather I was suggesting that when large, economically powerful groups or industries donate to both politcal parties equally, and in large amounts, neither party co go too far out on a limb with its policy initiatives, lest the party in question risk loosing major donors. Becasue Democrats have spent the last decade courting such groups, they are now as beholden to them as Republicans.

  7. Phillip,

    So your suggestion is that these donors always want Centrist solutions? If so, couldn’t the Democrats just offer Centrist policies without involving the GOP?

    1. NO, the donors in the business world want regulatory certainty, so that they can price appropriately to drive profits to meet shareholder earnings estimates/expectations. In otherwords, they don’t want change. So they buy politicians on both sides of the aisle who feign reform but end up “compromising in the spirit of bipartisanship” to essentially maintain the status quo. The politicians go along with this because its their ticket to reelection and thus continued membership in the political elites.

  8. I can accept the premise that bipartisanship means the status quo. But I don’t think that’s been the motivation on the healthcare debate.

    1. I think it is part of the equation, just as “sink the Democrats so we can return to power” is part of the equation. I also think itis politically less risky to do nothing.

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