Bi-Partisanship

I really hate the word “bi-partisan,” both because no one really uses it right, and because, when used properly, it’s simply redundant. In the vernacular of political journalism, “bi-partisan,” is basically a fancy word for capitulation. That is, journalists think you’re being bi-partisan when you simply acquiesce to what the opposing party wants in some sort of, I suppose, magnanimous gesture, and that’s the sort of assumption being worked under here.

In reality, “bi-partisanship” should simply mean governing. “Working across the aisle” doesn’t mean giving the pther party whatever they want, and if it did, we’d presumably get a sort of reverse gridlock where the two parties are arguing that the other is being too benevolent. What it does mean is that you set priorities, you know what you want in a bill, and you try to find areas of lower priority in which you’re willing to compromise with the opposition in order to get what you want in terms of the larger priorities. In other words, it’s simply being good stewards of government. That’s why the meme that Obama is somehow not really bi-partisan because he’s only worked to pass “liberal policies,” like working with Dick Lugar on nuclear proliferation, whereas McCain has gone against his own party, to a degree, doesn’t make any sense, and it’s certainly not an endorsement of McCain’s leadership abilities by any stretch of the imagination.

But it also belies a nasty little secret of the GOP, which is that they have no interest in governing, and even when in power they simply seek to obstruct the public infrastructure as opposed to conducting the business of the people. More liberal voices will often lament that the Democratic Party is too timid with Republicans in Congress, but on some level I think that misses the point. The problem with Democratic leadership is that they want to govern, and they assume Republicans have similar desires. So they go about legislative matters under the assumption that they will be sensible negotiations on policy, conducted in good faith and with both sides desiring to craft a bill that achieves the most that either side wishes to achieve possible. But the complicating factor is that that’s simply not how Republicans envision the process of governing. They’ll take what they can, or they’ll simply obstruct. A sensible party, for example, might have agreed to pass a updated FISA  law without the complicating telecom immunity provision, and subsequently put up a new bill providing for telecom immunity. Instead, Republicans took a tyical all or nothing approach, threatening to kill a bill they had previously deemed crucial to the security of the American people unless they got immunity for corportate communications entities. It’s highly effective exactly because Democrats want to govern, and just aren’t particularly interested in playing the silly framing games that Republicans engage in. But there’s nothing “bi-partisan” about voting with the opposition for the hell of it. Being a right-wing extremist and a Democrat doesn’t make you a centrist, it makes you a right-wing extremist.