Thursday, February 25, 2010

Faux Bipartisanship

The whole notion of bipartisanship has taken a beating these days from folks on the left and the right. Indeed, in this age of hyper-partisanship, folks tend to punish those who dare cooperate with the other side.

But there is still a desire among many in the Great American Middle for some form of bipartisanship, a way where the two sides can come together and make a deal that will benefit all of America.

So, what does a politician do to fulfill that desire? You play pretend bipartisanship and hope no one notices its just for show. That's the basis of a recent Political article which focuses on the healthcare debate and how both the left and the right have done what they can to thrwart real bipartisanship.

Carrie Budhof Brown shows how outside forces killed the one real chance for bipartisanship on reforming health care:
In fact, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana tried the bipartisan route. He spent almost nine months trying to bring a handful of Republicans onto the bill, and had the support of Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid in doing it — to an extent. The theory was that if Baucus could persuade Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to come on board, other Republicans in both chambers would follow.

Until July, the approach looked promising. But a cascade of decisions threw it off course.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told conservative activists that they needed to make health care Obama’s Waterloo, infuriating Democrats who saw the remarks as the first public sign that Republicans had no plans to support the bill.

It was around this time that Baucus faced increased pressure from Reid and the White House to wrap up the Gang of Six negotiations, angering Republicans who didn’t want to be rushed.

But the Republicans involved in talks — Snowe, Grassley and Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming — were also being squeezed. When it appeared that the group was nearing a compromise, McConnell reined them in, extracting guarantees from Grassley and Enzi that they would not sign off on a deal without consent from the caucus, according to congressional aides.

Partisans on both sides charge the other is not really engaging with the other. They present themselves as the pure and honest one, while the other side refuses to listen to them.

The whole game these days is to appear that you are trying to extend the olive branch, while at the same time reining in those who even dare to try to persue real bipartisanship.

The thing is, real bipartisanship means coming together, listen to each other and realizing that you aren't going to get the whole loaf. But in this age when what matters is to win, what matters is trying to make sure the other side gets nothing. It's the ultimate in zero-sum games.

I am probably one of the dreaded "Broderites" who thinks that real bipartisanship is a worthy thing. Why? Because even if one side wins a majority of seats in Congress and wins the White House, they have to contend with another side that also won seats. They might not have won the majority, but they were still elected by their districts to do a job. We are not a parlimentary system where the winner takes all. The winner might have advantages, but they still have to cooperate with the minority. Too many think that because one party might have a commanding majority, that they don't have to listen to the minority. But that is not how our govermental structure is set up. The minority might be less in number, but they have been elected in their states and districts. They have to be listened to and heeded.

Some of the blame also has to placed on a partisan public that does not want bipartisanship. What they want is for the "losing side" to basically get out of the way and shut up and through blogs and membership groups, they make sure that anyone who works with the other side is punished.

I don't have an answer for this. All I can say is that there needs to be a price paid for squashing bipartisanship. Until that happens, expect more staged showings of bipartisanship.

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