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.