The scurvy scourge (?!?) of bipartisanship has returned to the nation's not-quite-paper-of-record. From the Wash Post:
Exploiting a deep well of voter revulsion over partisan gridlock in Washington, Sen. Barack Obama is promising to do something that has not been done in modern U.S. politics: unite a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents behind an agenda of sweeping change….
In Washington, bipartisanship for decades has been synonymous with compromise and incrementalism….
Obama is promising something very different, what skeptics call an oxymoron: sweeping bipartisan change.
"I think the American people are hungry for something different and can be mobilized around big changes, not incremental changes, not small changes," Obama said Saturday night. "I think that there are a whole host of Republicans, and certainly independents, who have lost trust in their government, who don't believe anybody is listening to them, who are staggering under rising costs of health care, college education, don't believe what politicians say. And we can draw those independents and some Republicans into a working coalition, a working majority for change."
The voice of reason in the story is Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who notes:
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said bipartisanship tends to produce the worst that Washington has to offer—transactional politics where lawmakers scratch one other's backs without regard to the bigger picture. Pork-barrel spending goes unchallenged because members of both political parties know that by objecting to one project, they jeopardize their own, Flake said.
"Partisanship is underrated. There is a time and place for it, and more time and place than we realize," he said.
You said it, brother. Whole thing here.
If you're desperate for bipartisanship, then remember the Medicare prescription drug benefit and No Child Left Behind, and a thousand other feel-good legislative acts that passed in the just-passed age of bitter partisanship. Note too that the big "bipartisan" successes of the Clinton years, ranging from NAFTA to welfare reform to balanced budgets, were the result of hyper-partisan campaigns and arm-twisting, not any calls to buddy-buddy change.
In 2006, Flake, who does propose annually a bipartisan bill to end the Cuba embargo, explained in reason why the Republicans don't deserve libertarian votes: "There's nothing we've done as Republicans that ought to make libertarians excited about our record." No wonder, then, that the GOP purged him from his post on a big committee in January '07.
Slate's Jack Shafer pours some cold water on bipartisanship too, noting the advantages of its opposite number:
Gridlock was built into our political system to prevent the hasty passage of laws based on someone's good (or bad) intentions. (When Congress does nothing, at least it does nothing wrong.) Political rifts are wonderfully useful. Just as branches of government are supposed to watch other branches, political candidates are supposed to check and balance those they oppose.
In our Feb. 2007 issue, reason prophesied "what to expect from the long-awaited, much-anticipated return of gridlock."