Dispelling Myths About Bipartisanship
Can we now be clear about what it fundamentally means to strive for “bipartisan” action?
Reed said economists “on both sides of the political divide” concluded “this stimulus was necessary, that we had to stop the job losses, we had to get people back into the marketplace, that there was a very real fear of even worse job losses.” He said the package represents “a rather rapid response to the most significant problem facing the country, which I think speaks volumes of the president’s leadership and his ability to get difficult things done.”
But he cautioned that more must be done, such as “additional efforts to increase lending by the banking community.”
While campaigning, Obama decried partisanship, and once in office, he tried to gain support for the stimulus package from Republicans in Congress. But the package passed without a single vote from House Republicans, and it received support from just three Republican senators — Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, whom conservatives deride as RINOs (Republicans In Name Only).
In response to Republican criticism of the stimulus package, Reed questioned the GOP’s claim to fiscal conservatism, noting the national debt rose sharply during President Bush’s administration. “I think after presiding over the economic policies that led us to so much of this,” he said, “their standing to be critical is really diminished. But I think what they did is they adopted a political posture, not one based on a pragmatic analysis of the markets and what had to be done.”
So should Obama keep striving for bipartisanship?
Brown University political science Prof. James Morone had an op/ed piece in The New York Times on Tuesday, saying that while Obama seems eager “to restore a culture of cooperation in Washington,” it’s not going to be easy because “that golden bipartisan era never existed.”
“Great presidents do manage to push past partisanship — not by reaching out to the other party, but by overwhelming it with a new vision,” Morone wrote. “Franklin Roosevelt did not offer a hand to the defeated Hooverites.” Rather, FDR’s success stemmed from “the collective, social-gospel vision he articulated from the start.”
“Bipartisan” is a desirable marker of actions that are so clear and popular that even the necessary political tension that should exist in a healthy society does not apply to them (at least fully). If the weighty and complicated matters of our day sail along with the winds of a bipartisan spirit, it means that our government is not functioning properly.