Monday, February 9, 2009

Centrist Baby-Splitting

After noting that the previous president was an inveterate partisan and a complete asshole, Matt Yglesias allows that

none of that stopped him from having a nice bipartisan signing ceremony for the legislation authorizing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief ... The crux of the matter wasn’t that Bush had some momentary conversion to a skilled bipartisan approach. Rather, funding for initiatives aimed at fighting infectious disease in Africa is just a bit peripheral to the core issues of American politics. So bipartisanship was possible.
Which is to say bipartisanship is possible between even the staunchest political adversaries in those instances when the adversaries find genuine common ground. For all the areas of common ground -- I am sympathetic to the view that the Democrats and Republicans are little more than the two wings of the business party -- they rarely agree on fiscal policy.

That being so, it's a good thing we have those sensible centrists to parachute in and rescue the stalled stimulus package. To his credit, Ross Douthat captures the essence of their oh-so-moderate, centrist-y approach to wise governance:
In this world, centrist Senators exist to take politics as usual - whether it's tax cuts in Republican eras, or spending splurges in Democratic ones - and make it ever so slightly more fiscally responsible. So if the GOP wants, say, $500 billion in tax cuts, the country clearly needs $400 billion in tax cuts - but not a penny more! And if the Democrats want $900 billion in stimulus, then the best possible policy outcome must be ... $800 billion in stimulus! To read this Arlen Specter op-ed, justifying both the stimulus package and the cuts the "gang of moderates" have attempted to impose, is to encounter a mind incapable of thinking about policy in any terms save these: Take what the party in power wants, subtract as much money as you can without infuriating them, vote yes, and declare victory.
It is the policy-making equivalent of the false-balance mode of news reporting in which, to pick only one egregious example, long-recognized forms of torture become "considered by many legal authorities to be torture." In science reporting, the same approach puts peer-reviewed science on equal footing with the half-baked notions of cranks, denialists, and paid liars.

It is the theory that so long as both sides of a controversy are displeased with the outcome, due diligence has been done, compromise attained, balance achieved. It is false and pernicious, and we need better.

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