The Welcome Death of Bipartisanship

Politics is supposed to be about disagreements.

For a long time now, the idea of "bipartisanship" cooperation between Republicans and Democrats has been something of a Holy Grail in American politics.  George W. Bush was elected on a promise to be "a uniter, not a divider" as he had been while Governor of Texas; he was roundly reamed when his administration didn't quite pan out that way.  Barack Obama, too, ran on a platform of pragmatic cooperation, yet we see that his signature bills have passed (or not) on basically party-line votes.

One single vote from the other party does not "bipartisanship" make.  Watching bills being formed is a famously nauseating experience; when every single vote is The Critical One, the horsetrading and out-and-out bribery makes American voters feel like echoing Oliver Cromwell's address to the Rump Parliament:

You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

Indeed, the recent blizzard which shut down the Federal Government for a week formed a welcome respite from the mudslinging and infighting.  How are you supposed to run a country this way?  Has it always been this bad?

No, it hasn't; but the reasons why are not the ones you read in the paper.

Tempests in Teapots

It's often forgotten, but our nation was forged not just by clash of arms but by clash of philosophies in the Continental Congress and Constitutional Conventions.  The differences between the various state groupings dwarfed what we see today: should the nation permit slavery, or ban it?  Should slaves be taxed, or affect representation?  Should military power be vested in Congress or a single executive?  The genius of our Founders is that they negotiated compromises on every essential issue so that all thirteen very diverse colonies could come to agreement.

What's more, they didn't just keep their arguments to themselves.  The Federalist Papers were a long series of articles carefully explaining the new Constitution and arguing as to why it was a good idea.  Less known but equally important, the Anti-Federalist Papers recorded the arguments of those opposed.  The American people were able to read both, reach their own conclusions based on the argument, and inform their representatives of their feelings.

Once that agreement was reached, it held pretty well for many decades.  There were disagreements, such as between Jefferson and Adams over foreign policy, but they were resolved peacefully through the ballot box.

The overall atmosphere of what we see as comity was partly because the federal government had so little power and was involved in so few things: the ordinary American could easily go through his entire life and never have dealings with any arm of the federal government other than the Post Office.  The states and local towns were where almost all the real power lay.

Slavery was too big a problem to be resolved at that level, or by political means at all.  Abraham Lincoln dedicated his life to saving the Union and ultimately freeing the slaves.  In so doing, he grew the power and authority of the federal government far beyond what it had ever been before, breaking new ground for central control, and creating many more issues for Congress to fight over - which they did in the last half of the 19th century, even physically.

Of Comity and Hegemony

As ancient as many of our politicians are, they aren't that old; our institutional political memory doesn't go back any further than Franklin Roosevelt.  The twin crises of the Great Depression and World War II forged a somewhat unique political situation: by the end of FDR's long, long tenure, most opposition to his agenda had fizzled out or met in the middle.  There really was a national consensus regarding progressive liberalism, the growth of government, and a strong national defense.

The monolithic victory of liberal statism led to William F. Buckley's 1950's rise to fame.  He is called the founder of modern conservatism for a good reason: when first he came to public attention, there were no other national figures who argued for anything that we would recognize as conservatism today.  For decades before and decades following, the comity of Congress was easily preserved by the simple expedient of Democrat and liberal hegemony.

Recently, longtime Sen. Evan Bayh retired, saying that he didn't like his job anymore because the combat was too intense.  "It was better in my father's time," quoth he.  Yes, it most certainly was if you were a Democrat as the Washington Examiner pointed out:

...In the 1960s Washington was a one-party capital in ways that it is not now. When Dirksen put his arm around the elder Bayh's shoulder, there were 64 Democrats in the Senate. The session before, from 1965 to 1967, there were 68 Democrats. In fact, for the decade from 1959 to 1969, there were never fewer than 64 Democrats in the Senate. The party controlled the House by similarly huge margins...

Of course there's a lot less disagreement if everyone who matters agrees with you, but that is not the way a democracy is supposed to work.  If we all are in agreement on all major issues, why do we even bother to hold elections?

The whole reason we have elections and political parties is because we don't agree; there are different ways to do things and the candidates have to make their cases to the voters so, once elected, then can try to put their points of view into practice.  A Congress where everybody pulls in the same direction is no Congress at all.

That said, even when there were vast disagreements in the past, there were also sources of bipartisan agreement.  America-Firsters may not have wanted us to get involved in "Europe's war", but once the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Hitler declared war on us, every American agreed that we needed to finish the job in total victory.  Great chunks of FDR's New Deal were highly controversial, and many were found unConstitutional, but on the basic idea of providing employment for the unemployed there was consensus right across the board.  Regardless of the party, most Americans pretty much agreed on what America was and ought to be.

Out Of Many... Even More?

That is not true today.  Consider the current debate over health care reform.  There is not one single person in politics anywhere, from President on down to dogcatcher, who thinks that our current way of handling health care is perfect just the way it is.  Quite the contrary: we all agree it's a complete mess.

Why, then, can't we fix it?  Because the directions the two parties want to go are exact opposites.

Democrats believe that our problems are caused by too little government involvement in providing health care; they want to slap tighter restrictions on what health insurance companies can do, force them to accept anyone no matter how sick, increase government funding for the poor and not-quite-so-poor, and ideally, someday have a Single Payer System like England and Canada where the government pays all doctors and everybody gets care without having to pay for it directly.

Republicans, in stark contrast, believe that our problems are caused by government interference in what ought to be a free market.  Health insurance is expensive because most people get it from their employers and thus have little control over what plan is picked; individuals don't pay their doctor bills and thus have no idea of what might be cheaper treatment options; and, of course, the incessant regulatory mandates and legal liabilities drive up costs and lead to worthless "defensive medicine".

Any solution offered by one party is going to be seen by the other party, not merely as useless, but as making the problem worse.  There is not one single policy that everybody can agree on as a good idea.  Even the obvious and demonstrably helpful tort reform falls foul of the malodorous fact that trial lawyers donate vast sums to Democrats.

Same for taxation.  Democrats look at our deficit and think, "We need to raise taxes to cover the bills."  Republicans look at the same facts and think, "We need to cut taxes so that the economy will grow, thus raising the amount of taxes collected and covering the bills."  It's a historical fact that the latter worked perfectly under Reagan and John F. Kennedy, whereas the higher taxes of Obama and many blue states have simply led to reduced economic activity and lower receipts.  Facts don't matter; it's an article of faith.

We could go on line by line down each issue and find the same diametrical opposites.  Republicans want to drill for American oil and natural gas; Democrats think we should tax to death if not outlaw fossil fuels altogether.  Republicans want parents and children to have the ability to pick whatever school they'd like to attend, public, private, or religious; Democrats do all they can to throw kids out of successful private schools and back into failing public schools so that their union allies can skim more taxpayer billions.

The two parties don't even agree anymore on supporting our troops.  If you think we shouldn't be fighting in a particular country, it's legitimate to argue that we should surrender and bring our boys home.  (Stupid and un-American perhaps, but legitimate).

What is not legitimate is to try to force the President's hand by refusing to fund military supplies for our soldiers currently in combat.  Yet that's what Democrats like John Murtha tried to do to Bush and even today many Democrats are angry that Obama is continuing the war in Afghanistan.  If we cannot all, as Americans, agree that we ought to win wars instead of losing them, how could you possibly expect us to agree on anything else?

The devastating wreckage wrought by multiculturalism is beyond the scope of this article, but the more that people identify themselves as members of a sub-group rather than Americans, the less we'll have in common and the less agreement will be possible.  When an American Muslim soldier can shoot down his own fellow soldiers in cold blood after giving a public Powerpoint presentation saying that's what Muslims ought to do, and nobody dared do anything about him for fear of being "Islamophobic", then we are no longer "one nation" in any meaningful way.

Up until recently Maj. Hasan had every right and opportunity to vote for politicians who reflected his warped views.  Is it any wonder that some of our politicians happily do things which in an earlier age would have been called treason?

The American people think they want bipartisanship, because that's what the media constantly tells them they want.  Yet there will never be a more bipartisan guy than Sen. John McCain, and he was squashed like a bug when he ran for President.  In stark contrast, Ronald Reagan recalled his 1980 victory thus:

Four years ago we raised a banner of bold colors-no pale pastels[emphasis added]

There was nothing bipartisan about the Gipper.  Everybody knew exactly what he believed in and why - and he went on to not only win the 1984 election in a landslide, but change the country's political culture in a way that lasted for decades.

No, Americans don't necessarily want friendly politicians who get along with everybody.  They want a leader who knows what he believes and who can convince them why to believe in it too.

Whoever has the political guts and strong foundation to come out with a full-throated defense of American tradition, history, culture, and strength, will not only sweep the board in 2012, but with luck will carry a whole new Congress with him.

The bleat of "bipartisanship!" can then be seen for what it is: a Trojan horse for still more statism and ever decreasing liberty.  Good riddance!

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments
If everybody agree's on everything then half of them are unnecessary!
February 26, 2010 9:15 AM
Chenge Republicans to Libertarians and this article is so true; there is no difference between the statist Democrats and the socialist Republicans, who have sabotaged the capitalist principles, to say nothing of liberty and government interference in our personal lives- one need not be a hermit to realise the years of deficits, bail outs and "wars" on drugs, terrorism, poverty have eroded our freedoms, all sponsered by both parties: Reagan's War on Drugs violated the 4th Amendment, Bush's War on Terrorism likewise, and you claim these are Liberty-minded folks?
Look at the laws passed by nearly all members of Congress following the Enron fiasco, and the bailouts, and learn how the feds have interceded with the capitalist approach 5to letting failures fail.
Libertarians rule~!

February 26, 2010 2:40 PM
I'd just like to say that I agree with irvnz.

In so many ways, Republicans and Democrats are reflected in the following parable:

One day, a man came home from work to find the door to his house had been kicked in. He walked cautiously into the house and saw a stranger standing in front of his open refrigerator, fixing himself a sandwich with food from within. On the couch, another stranger was kicking back, watching television, and helping himself to a cold beer.

The homeowner rushed up to the man fixing the sandwich, incensed at his calm audacity. "What are you doing in here?!?" he demanded.

"Don't look at me," answered the stranger, pointing to his fellow on the couch. "It was that other guy who kicked the door in."

This, in essence, is what we hear from both parties, again and again and again. It won't end until we as citizens decide to end it, one way or another.
February 26, 2010 3:18 PM
For a long while, this has been true. It bears repeating that in the 2008 elections, Scragged was not happy with EITHER candidate for very similar reasons as expressed above.

Has the Republican party changed to properly respecting the Constitution? Perhaps. But at least, all America is watching now, and we'll find out. The Tea Partiers have rightly been criticizing Republicans just as much as they have Democrats; the difference is, the Republicans often listen and don't demean them. So there's hope on that side, where there isn't on the other.
February 26, 2010 4:33 PM
I admit I agree with the Tea Partiers about a fair amount of things, but I get the impression that rather than effecting any real change, they are being used.

When the strongest honest defense the Republicans can come up with is that they're "less bad" than the Democrats... Well, you already read the parable above.

Actions speak louder than words. Let the Republicans accomplish something concrete -- actually taking on the lawyers to effect significant tort reform would be nice -- and I might rethink things a bit. Until then, they're going to have to prime their own pump as far as I'm concerned. They've already spent all the credit I might have given them.
February 26, 2010 5:22 PM
Yes, and wouldn't it be wonderful if we were back to the day when it was a given that the President of this country actually LOVED this country ...
February 26, 2010 9:42 PM
These days, Obama and Reid have changed the spelling from bipartisanship to buypartisanship... From Louisiana to Florida to Nebraska... there isn't a partisan in their party that they won't happily buy to get their vote for Obamacare.
February 26, 2010 9:55 PM
yes i agree with you bipartisanship is must and should between political parties. but these days everything is going on party you said everyone needs a leader who knows what he believes and he must be able to make it clear to everyone of his people.and ofcourse as gurujosh said Obama and Reid have changed the spelling from bipartisanship to buypartisanship which is unlikely. lets home some thing likely will happen in future.
February 26, 2010 10:14 PM
There can be no bipartisanship when Obama shows more deference to Chinese dictators than he does to American voters. Compromise with someone who insults you? You have got to be kidding. That is the way to MAKE SURE there is NO bipartisanship.
February 26, 2010 10:24 PM
Politics is now a days is survival of the fittest.Bipartisanship is a distant dreams.No persons can think alike,so how can we expect that two rival parties thinking on same parameters?
February 26, 2010 11:07 PM
partition i the politics is common whether of belief or leaders. there is always an opposition and the administration, the democrat and the republican. i think one reason is that there are more who aspires to be a leader or the highest leader and forming their own party. another reason is that there are always opposing ideas cause all have its other side of the story.
February 27, 2010 12:31 AM
Everyone knows that US wages all these wars just to put their hands on the precious oil. Not to mention that US is in fact rules by a bunch of people, most of them Jewish, who really would love to see all the Arab world disappear into thin air.
February 27, 2010 4:20 AM
You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

Actually this is the fact waiting to the people. Neither the president nor the people...No one is on their way...
February 27, 2010 9:29 AM
Obama and the democrats talk about bipartisanship but reject everything the Republicans suggest like TORT REFORM which would bring costs down and making health insurance available across State lines. hussein obama and his entourage are ALL TALK WITH A FORKED TONGUE. That's what America gets for electing an inexperienced/socialist person.
February 27, 2010 10:03 AM
I agree. With the different philosophies and cultural divisions, we can never come into an agreement with each other anymore. What more democracts and republicans. Bipartisahship is nothing but a dream to many, but who knows maybe Obama can raise a chance to show the country that it's still not dead.
February 27, 2010 6:56 PM
Unfortunately, the President and his henchmen in his party's House & Senate "leadership" are not seeking to achieve reform in health care; they are seeking raw, naked power. And there is no greater power we could as voters cede to government than the life-and-death power of delivering or withholding medical care from our families. We owe a debt of gratitude to our Republicans in Congress and to those few holdout Democrats for holding back the tidal wave of ObamaCare. We owe to our progeny of generations yet to come, our diligence and adamant in saying - no, shouting - no! Stop this bill!
February 27, 2010 10:13 PM
In a two party system, bipartisan refers to any bill, act, resolution, or any other action of a political body in which both of the major political parties are in agreement. Often, compromises are called bipartisan if they reconcile the desires of both parties from an original version of legislation or other proposal. Failure to attain bipartisan support in such a system can easily lead to gridlock, often angering each other and their constituencies.
There are two parties in America
1. democrats
2. Republicans
These two parties are different in opinion on almost all matters in the country
Obama,s democrats talk about bipartisanship but reject everything the Republicans suggest.
I personally support Bipartisanship between two parties.Its the beauty of democracy.
February 28, 2010 3:07 AM
unfortunately this see-saw will repeat itself as both parties consider politics as simply a means to perpetuate their social agenda, thinking citizens are incapable of running their lives, businesses and maintaining social mores without the use of force- it is not so much as I disagree with many Republicans as I think their methods- using laws, bigotry & contempt-instead of showing by example & logic the methods of limited government and rejecting the follies of RINOs such as you know whom, and his socialist in all but name co-horts.
February 28, 2010 2:55 PM
It is so true that elected officials will frequently say one thing to get elected and then perform in a somewhat different manner. I especially agree with your example of Bush and the contrary, Reagan. You really know where you stood with "The Gipper."

Bipartisanship is an elusive ideal. Maybe it is time for a real, third party!
February 28, 2010 8:51 PM
A real third party which would reject the ideals of "government knows best"??
Republicans, especially the statist ones who project their religion knows all that is wrong with America, would never flock to a separation of church & state, let alone a free market, like Bush's approval of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a wonderful piece of legislation endorsed by all of Congress, and an excellent example of this bipartisanship killing off freedoms in America: and welcomed by that ultimate socialist Mr Bush- who to this observer is no less evil than Mr Obama for his blatant abuse of power.
February 28, 2010 11:42 PM
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