The New Bipartisanship: Vote With the Majority, or Die


There's a strange new meme afoot, among non-Democrat circles as well as Obamaphiles. It goes like this: House Republicans are risking a possibly deserved "death spiral" by the mere act of opposing what the Democratic majority wants to do. So the American Spectator's Conservative's Daniel Larison marvels that "The Republican stimulus vote was remarkable in how politically tone-deaf it was." A Daily Kos diarist compares Republican non-assimilationists to The Borg. Andrew Sullivan, still impressed by Obama's "public and sincere attempt to win many [Republicans] over," worries that "many Republicans who might otherwise have been open to a real compromise—or at least less partisan rhetoric—are no longer in the Congress. The remaining rump will seek ideological purity and attack the president from the get-go." And Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson argues that Obama-leery Republicans risk the same fate as, uh, unionized air traffic controllers who took on Ronald Reagan.

I guess it helps to not have an electoral dog in the hunt, but this focus on the politics of stimulus opposition strikes me as bizarre. First of all, it's January. There is no election anytime soon. Secondly, while polls for the stimulus have been more favorable than they have been for the always-unpopular bailout, the numbers ain't that great for this giveaway, either. And I guess what I'm more interested in is whether throwing $819 billion (not including interest) at various pet projects, localized bailouts and targeted tax breaks is actually good policy. On that, I find House Republicans more convincing than the Dems, even if (as Larison and others rightly point out) it also reminds us of "how gutlessly the Republican leadership acquiesced to whatever the Bush administration wanted and how they only managed to discover some interest in resisting massive expenditures when someone from the other party is in the White House." Better late than never, etc., especially if you don't confuse newfound opposition with anything like reliable principle.

The other factor at play here, which Democratic ears seem unable to detect, is that Obama is skillfully turning the meaning of the word "bipartisan" into "the coalition that agrees with my magnanimous self." All this "political suicide" talk serves his conscious goal of peeling off enough scared and/or squishy Republicans to turn his already impressive majority into something positively Reaganesque. So that he can even more smoothly carry out the urgent bipartisan business of installing Big Labor in the West Wing.