Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Deeeep Thoughts on Bipartisanship

The economy is collapsing, people are rightly cranky, and the word "bipartisanship" has become ubiquitous. Sigh.

If there existed widespread consensus in public policy in the United States, bipartisanship would be spontaneous. As there is not widespread consensus on public policy, what is asking for bipartisanship really asking for? Who wants it? To what end?

Partisan divisions in Washington reflect genuine divisions among Americans. When liberals say that we favor abortion rights, full legal equality for minorities, the broadest possible social safety net, an expeditious end to the Iraq war, serious efforts to address climate change, and so on, we mean it. Conservatives disagree. Over time, we will each have our victories and our defeats. In November, liberals won more votes than conservatives.

Partisanship requires the active participation of at least two factions. Bipartisanship, likewise, requires the active participation of at least two factions. When one side is reaching for "bipartisanship" while the other side is not, the first side is revealed to be reaching to give concessions to the other side.

As of the 2008 elections, Democrats control 255 of 435 seats in the House (58.6%), 59 of 100 seats in the Senate, 100% of all committee chairmanships in the Congress, and 100% of the Presidency. There is no reasonable expectation that this state of affairs should produce equal concessions from each side.

Elections matter.

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