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.