Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The sinking bipartisan ship

It seems to me like much of the Washington establishment fetishizes bipartisanship for its own sake. Like the absurd notion of a "unity" ticket in 2008, premised, apparently, on the idea that after six years of war, lies, mismanagement, and malignant neglect of pretty much every really serious matter in the world, our biggest problem is that Democrats and Republicans aren't being nice enough to each other.

Or like how David Broder, the "dean" of the Washington press corps (a word I'm always tempted to spell with a silent e in this context), glowed with praise for the Iraq Study Group before they'd even issued their report, not in anticipation of any Iraq solutions he thought they were going to propose, but because both Democrats and Republicans were involved, and therefore it was a victory for bipartisanship. That whole little matter of stopping a misguided war...that was creepily secondary.

What I'd assumed all along about this was probably not very charitable: that much of the press establishment is more concerned with harmony at their cocktail parties than with the business of the country.

But...David Ignatius in the Washington Post writes that...

The wild cards in this new effort to craft a bipartisan Iraq policy are the Republican and Democratic leaders, President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They both say they want a sustainable, effective Iraq policy, but each is deeply entrenched in a partisan version of what that policy should be. America is in a nosedive in Iraq. Can these two leaders share the controls enough that Iraq will become a U.S. project, rather than George Bush's war? There's a bipartisan path out of this impasse, but will America's leaders be wise enough to take it?

This is really kind of staggering, isn't it? For one thing, he suggests that the current attempt by George Bush to run out the clock in Iraq until the end of his term, by repackaging strategies that have already failed, is some sort of honest attempt to reach "bipartisan" middle ground. As if the Bush administration had not spent the last six years acting as if Democrats were a communicable disease.

And Ignatius equates Bush's insistence on staying in Iraq forever with Pelosi's attempts to stop him from doing that (inadequate though they may be thus far), and reduces the ideological clash--which, bear in mind, is about life and death--to a matter of "partisanship." People in one party want to do one thing, people in the other party want to do another thing, and they haven't found some middle ground they can agree on; therefore, to Ignatius, the problem must be excessive partisanship, to which the solution is always bipartisanship, and then everything will be just fine.

So it's not just that they want bipartisanship because that makes their cocktail parties less hostile. Ignatius, at least, seems to want bipartisanship because he thinks it's a magic bullet. Partisanship is always the cause of every problem, and bipartisanship is always the solution.

Personally I think that's asinine. If a Republican tries to take my lunch money and a Democrat stops him, that's "partisan strife." If the two of them decide to team up and take my lunch money together, that's "bipartisanship."

It comes down to this, really: if both parties are going to conduct themselves with even a modicum of reason and good faith, it's always worth trying to find solutions everyone can more or less get behind. But when one party goes criminally insane, the other party is not obligated to meet them halfway. Personally, I'd really prefer they didn't.

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