Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Stop Flinching at Bipartisanship"

Booman Tribune:
Glenn Greenwald goes to great lengths this morning to demonstrate that the American people do not crave bipartisanship. He points out that a recent New York Times poll (.pdf) indicates that the people want (by a 56%-39% margin) Obama to stick to his campaign promises rather than diluting them with Republican ideas and that they would prefer it (by a 79%-17% margin) if the Republicans would drop their priorities and work with the president on his agenda.
In other words, the people want the Republicans to act in a bipartisan manner but don't want Obama to do so if it is going to water down the Change he promised.

So far, so good. Greenwald makes an important point and fairly criticizes the national press for failing to understand and report on the mood of the country. He also takes fair shots at Democrats that sometimes behave as if they don't understand the mood of the country either. But, what bothers me is the stridency with which Greenwald attacks the concept of bipartisanship, as if the Democrats are engaging in it in some self-destructive and self-defeating way. As far as I can tell, the only evidence for this is based in the theory that the stimulus package was watered down far beyond what was necessary to gain 60 votes in the Senate. And, even if we take this theory to be true (which I don't), it ignores the possibility of any tangential or delayed benefits from setting a tone of cooperation and respect in the context of a call for unity and setting petty bickering aside.

Obama's poll ratings remain stratospheric and it should be acknowledged that one likely reason for that is that people like his tone, temperament, and style. His 'bipartisanship' is all part of that brand. And one thing we should also acknowledge is that Obama will have an easier time getting 60 votes in the Senate if he retains his popularity. The less popularity he has, the more concessions he will have to make. At the same time, we make a mistake if we use the Republicans' near-unanimous opposition to the Economic Recovery Act as the baseline for future bills. Future bills will be worked through committees that Republicans serve on, and there will be ample opportunities to peel off votes in return for input. Treating the Republicans with a certain level of respect, even if unwarranted, allows them take down their defensive shield, if they are so inclined. And it also prevents them from finding easy rallying points around which to unify and do effective message opposition.

The fear that the Democrats will needlessly water down legislation is way overblown and ignores that a concession today can obviate the need for a concession tomorrow. I understand why after years in the minority many Democrats instinctively flinch at the idea of bipartisanship (capitulation), but we really need to get over it now that we're in the majority.

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