Sunday, March 02, 2008

Let's Not Overrate Bipartisanship


David Ignatius is much more comfortable with McCain's record on "biparisanship" than with Obama's:
The Obama campaign sent me an eight-page summary of his "bipartisan accomplishments," and it includes some encouraging examples of working across the aisle on issues such as nuclear proliferation, energy, veterans affairs, budget earmarks and ethics reforms. So the cupboard isn't bare. It's just that, unlike McCain, Obama bears no obvious political scars for fighting bipartisan battles that were unpopular with his party's base.
A couple of reactions....

Bipartisanship is a great concept when your party doesn't control the government. "They may have the power and control, but wouldn't it be better if they tossed us a bone from time to time?" It's necessary when no party is in control, as otherwise you can have gridlock. But if you do have control, what's your incentive for tossing the other side that bone? The vain hope that in the future, when they regain control, they'll return the favor? (What does the Republican legislative history from 2001 - 2006 tell us about that hope?)

Also, I don't believe for a second that McCain plans to run a bipartisan government, except as necessary to advance his agenda. He may be more willing to break with the Republican Party than his recent predecessors, just as they will be more likely to break with him, but that's not about "bipartisanship" - that's about their each advancing their own agendas. The spittle directed at McCain by right-wing nutters like Limbaugh and Coulter is a reflection of that reality - the problem is not that McCain is a "liberal" as some pretend, or that he belives in "bipartisanship". It's that he'll build coalitions to do what he wants.

It doesn't worry me that Obama doesn't have a long history of reaching across the aisle. He hasn't been in national office long enough to have a long history of anything, and for the first six years of the Bush Administration "reaching across the aisle" has largely meant getting a sufficient number of Democrats to acquiesce to an item on the Republican agenda. It would worry me more if he had the opportunity to advance significant legislation without compromise, but nonetheless decided to gut it in the name of "bipartisanship". (But I don't think he'll do that.)
Ronald Reagan taught the country something about the ability of a world-class communicator to create such a new political space that defies the previous categories.
I thought we were talking about bipartisanship, so why does Ignatius evoke Reagan? At present, to be transformative, McCain would have to do a lot of reaching across the aisle. Obama, not so much.

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