Can you see bipartisanship from here?

Listening to a podcast from KCRW (available on iTunes) called “Left, Right and Center,” I heard Tony Blankley, a conservative columnist, say “There is no such thing as bipartisanship, I’ve been in Washington 30 years and I’ve never seen it.”

This stands in stark contrast to President Obama’s apparent understanding of the possibility of bipartisanship in Washington politics.  He called for it during the campaign, he asked for it in the healthcare reform debates, and he joked about it during the House Republican retreat last week.  And let’s be honest, who isn’t for the idea of bipartisanship? It would seem most of the Members of Congress, actually.

But seriously, the whole notion of ideology and political philosophy seems to say that both men are right.  There’s two kinds of bipartisanship- one real and one imagined.  The imagined version referenced by Mr. Blankley is the idea that each piece of legislation or issue up for debate has a magical center. That if both sides simply located “true middle,” the bill would pass.  The truth is, in many cases, there is no possible compromise where both parties stick to their values and still find a way to pass legislation.  I would say that this “bipartisan culture” is unlikely to every exist.

However, Obama is right in that there are ways to change the culture of Washington politics and work together on certain issues.  Is nationalized healthcare the antithesis of your basic free market, small government Republican politician? Yes.  But instead of using political leverage to affect the content of the bill or bargaining on healthcare for a chance to pass something in another area, it seems like many politicians are satisfied to create a 3-4 year stalemate on almost everything.  When Obama says bipartisanship, I think he just means working together.  And that’s a sad commentary on how low our expectations are for politicians.

Yet, on the other hand, many people overlook the practicality, pragmatism and compromise all great politicians, the Founding Fathers included, need to employ throughout our history.  We have a tendency to look back at great Presidents and great Americans and think how strong, valued and focused they were.  The truth is James Madison wanted to ratify the Constitution and did everything he could to figure out how to make it appeal to the most people.  It was gritty, complex and ugly work, just like it is today.  I’d like to give Obama another chance to gain some support on both sides of the aisle and give Congress the benefit of the doubt on the complexities of today’s work.  Like many, my patience is running thin.  But it takes a long time to turn a ship the size of America, and while political utopia isn’t in our future, a better way of doing business might be just over the horizon.

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3 responses to “Can you see bipartisanship from here?

  1. Mike "The Truth" Oz

    You see the problem but how do you fix it?

    • Being as brief as possible, I’ll make two general points. First, I think that it requires a cultural shift in how we view politics and whether we’ll continue to allow the media “punish” politicians who break party ranks. Take Sen. Joe Lieberman for example. He broke with his party over defense spending, homeland security policy and John McCain’s candidacy for President. Granted, campaigning for McCain is a slap, of sorts, to Democrats. But if he truly believe in his personal friend, why was this such a violation? Is he not allowed to have an opinion different than the established Democratic party? Both the party and the media came down very hard on him. I would argue that the American people should start to think of politics as more flexible and fluid than we currently do. Second, I would argue for an issue-by-issue approach to building legislative coalitions. Currently, it is assumed that Republicans will be “Republican” on 99% of issues and Democrats the same. Every now and then, a Democrat will be allow to be a big supporter of the Second Amendment when it comes to gun control and a Republican will be pro-choice (Tom Ridge, maybe Rudy G.?). Otherwise, all issues are assumed to be uniform across the board. Why? Democrats won and should be allowed to set the agenda, but each agenda item should involve more “free agents” who are allowed to join a group and support legislation. Are our politicians allowed to be 75% Republican and 25% Democrat? When I say allowed, I mean that often times these moderate politicians will be campaigned against and ousted by their own party in favor of a more stereotypical politician in the primary. These are two major problems I would try to address culturally, politically and structurally.

  2. I equate today’s political culture to the last 2 minutes of a basketball game where instead it should be like the first 2 minutes.

    The begining of a game if the other team scores or if your team misses, no big deal, plenty of game left to play. In the last 2 minutes everything is do or die, there is no compromise, time for a full court press.

    Washington today treats every vote every bill as if it were do or die.

    One way to cure what ails Washington is a 1 topic bill law. Everybill has one topic and that’s all that can be included, there will be no offshore drilling bill that has farm subsidies in it. That leads to people finding easy outs on tough votes. Well I would have voted for the farm subsidies but I don’t want offshore drilling, and then the other side uses it as a bludgeon. YOU DON”T SUPPORT FARMERS! If congress was forced to vote on smaller single topic bills it would keep their feet to the fire.

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