Monday, February 09, 2009

The problem with bipartisanship

Bipartisanship is a great thing, right?

I mean, everyone talks about it like it's something to be strived for. President Obama, who is a very smart man (and a good deal more politically savvy than me) seems to value it. The word is bandied about on the news all the time, and everyone seems to agree that it's pretty awesome to be bipartisan.

It's not even a confusing word. It means "Of, consisting of, or supported by members of two parties, especially two major political parties." That's pretty straight-forward!

Now allow me to tell you why bipartisanship, as the word is used in this country, at this time, actually really sucks.

The biggest problem is that "bipartisanship" brings to mind a laudable ideal, but the word itself is mostly used as a cudgel to attack whomever you disagree with.

There are a number of words like this in common use today ("civility" springs to mind immediately), and they're typically used as thought-terminating cliches. Don't like someone's ideas but have a hard time finding any actual flaws with them? Just call them "partisan" and your opposition is instantly justified.

If we just go by the definition up there, we can see plenty of bipartisanship in our government. The illegality of murder enjoys wide bipartisan support. So does the free market. So do most things, actually. There's a lot that's already settled, but the legislating mostly takes place where things are less clear (the easy-to-settle stuff is already done) so we get a lot of arguments.

I suppose the ideal that makes "bipartisanship" seem like a good thing is the belief that a bipartisan solution/bill/law/etc enjoys support from everybody because it takes the best from both sides and wraps it up in a pretty bow so that everyone can enjoy it.

Which is not how anything in government works. Ever.

What does it take to make bipartisanship into a good thing and not just a nice idea? There are a few things I can think of, none of which should be terribly controversial:
  1. Both parties need to be willing to cooperate in order to come to a mutually acceptable outcome.
  2. Both parties need to have reasonable ideas that are worth incorporating.
  3. The ideas of both parties can't be mutually exclusive.
Number 1 is pretty self-explanatory, and is where our current problems start.

You can't come to an outcome everyone supports if either of the parties aren't willing to cooperate. It can't be one or the other, it has to be both.

Obama can do everything in his power to reach out to the Republicans. It doesn't matter, because the Republicans are just going to be oppositional dickwads to try to make themselves feel better about sucking so badly. Worse yet, after they reject every attempt Obama makes to reach out to them, they'll accuse him of not being "bipartisan enough."

The most irritating part of that is that Obama's praise of the nice-idea/politically-untenable-reality of "bipartisanship" has given them that power.

The Republicans can (and probably will) refuse everything Democrats put in front of them unless it's so twisted from its original intent that it might as well have come off the desk of Dick Cheney. It's partisan to not give them everything they want! You'll be hearing this until at least 2010.

Number 2 is also pretty important. If you have one party of people with good ideas and one party of idiots, there is absolutely no value in coming to a bipartisan outcome. Let the guys with the good ideas have their way, and don't let the idiots get involved and start screwing everything up.

The point of something like an economic stimulus plan, for instance, should ostensibly be to do those things that stimulate the economy. Not those things that don't. There are plenty of well-known, non-controversial things that stimulate the economy. Basically, things like spending stimulate the economy while things like tax cuts have less of an effect.

So if one party says "hey let's do these things that have been shown to stimulate the economy" and the other party says "no let's keep doing the same dumb shit that fucked up the economy in the first place," coming up with a bipartisan solution is considerably worse than just telling the dumb party to go piss up a rope.

There's a reason parents don't strive for "bipartisan" solutions with their children. It's because children are stupid. Same deal here.

There are some issues where getting input from Republicans might be valuable. I can't actually think of any right now, but if they actually exist, then would be the time for bipartisanship. For now, let's allow the grown-ups to do things.

On to number 3... Bipartisanship doesn't work if the two parties have mutually exclusive ideas.

If I say "abortions should be legal for everyone" and you say "abortions should be outlawed for everyone" there is really no possibility of the two of us ever coming up with a "bipartisan" solution that pleases us both.

"But Unicow," you may say, "isn't that only because you've positioned yourself and your opposition at extremes? Perhaps a more moderate individual would have no trouble with a bipartisan approach to abortion rights!"

Fuck you, buddy. The world is full of "extremes," and a milquetoastey middle-ground is not something that will please anyone. Nor is it something we should aspire to.

Also, mysterious voice in my head, there's a false equivalency in that abortion debate. Outlawing abortions entirely is far more extreme than having abortion be legal, but regulated.

This is a common theme in our two major political parties, by the way. The Democrats are just ever-so-slightly left of center, while the Republicans are extremely right-wing. The Overton window has been shifted way off-center. So don't worry about accusations of "extremism," they're just as bad as "partisan," and "uncivil."

But I've gone a little off-topic.

The point is that there are a lot of things where common ground simply doesn't exist, and there's no way the two sides are going to come together. Nor should they.

So here's an idea for the President (who obviously reads this blog): Forget about the bipartisan fancy-talk. Do what's right, and do what will fix what's wrong. The other party will do everything to stand in your way, and you're better off just going around them than you are if you try to make them happy. You may lose if you try to go around, but you lose worse if you please them.

Oh, and about the Commerce guy from New Hampshire... Why the fuck would you not replace him with a Democrat? You don't have to prove yourself bipartisan, you're already making the guy a cabinet member!