Working Together, We Can Blah Blah Blah…


In today's Washington Post, former House Majority Leader and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole suggests that, like old produce, the health-care reform debate has gone rotten, and is need of a "fresh start." And the best way to restore it to its original ripe, pristine state, he thinks, would be for Obama to finally offer a detailed health-care plan of his own.

Helpful advice? Hardly: As is so often the case in Washington when one party gives a member of the other party advice, it's little more than a pretext for fetishistic bipartisanship. Here's Dole, breaking it down:

Republicans have different ideas but for the most part are positive about reform if the government has a minimal role. Democrats would eventually regret it if Republicans are forced to take a nearly party-line vote.

…A bipartisan ending will have more credibility with the American people. Indeed, most important legislation in U.S. history has had broad bipartisan support.


Can't you feel the love? The tenderness? The togetherness? It's all so wonderfully, delightfully … bipartisany. And who could be against bipartisanship? Not Bob Dole, that's for sure! 

Problem is, it's unlikely that bipartisanship on the scale Dole wants is even possible: In recent weeks, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl has been spotted saying that even with deficit neutrality and without a government insurance plan, Republicans may not go along with reform. And Republicans supposedly working toward a bipartisan compromise have indicated that they might go so far as to reject their own compromise if it doesn't bring enough fellow party members along. 

So given the shape of Republican opposition, which is foremost a tactical, political opposition rather than one founded on specific policy concerns, it's not clear that any proposal  Obama could put forward would actually bring additional Republican support. It may or may not be true that, as Dole says, "Republicans… for the most part are positive about reform," but it's not clear what kind, and any desire to reform is undoubtedly secondary to a desire to deal Obama a major political loss. 

Furthermore, it doesn't stand to reason that an Obama proposal would reduce the level of chaos and acrimony surrounding the bill. More specifics means more for people to dislike—indeed, polling suggests that preference for reform declines the more one learns about the bill. Obama has thus far been able to hedge and dodge when pressed about details in large part because he's refused to spell out exactly what he does and doesn't support. Republicans would finally be able to stick Obama with an actual "Obama plan" that so far hasn't materialized. 

Only in a David Broder dreamscape—or perhaps the offices of the Bipartisan Policy Center, where Dole now sits on the advisory board—would an Obama plan be likely to shift the debate from messy political warfare to Hands Across Capitol Hill.  Of course, in Washington, doing things that make sense is hardly a prerequisite for either party—at least not as long as those things are done together. 

Read Radley Balko and Matt Welch on bipartisanship in Washington.