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The partisan nature of bipartisanship

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, February 16, 2009 17:00 EDT
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I want to add to some things Jesse said about this huge concern for consensus that’s sprung up in the media under the pretense that they’ve always been all about bipartisanship. Agreed with Jesse across the board—seeking consensus is a juvenile, naive tactic that just exposes you to obstructionism, as we’ve seen these past few weeks.

The thing is that the cries for “bipartisanship” run on the same cycle as wingnut concern about government spending—it only comes up when Democrats are in power. Where was the hand-wringing concern over the rights of a minority party when Republicans were completely railroading Democrats in ways that only Matt Taibbi could be bothered to cover? Here’s a refresher:

The GOP’s “take that, bitch” approach to governing has been taken to the greatest heights by the House Judiciary Committee. The committee is chaired by the legendary Republican monster James Sensenbrenner Jr., an ever-sweating, fat-fingered beast who wields his gavel in a way that makes you think he might have used one before in some other arena, perhaps to beat prostitutes to death. Last year, Sensenbrenner became apoplectic when Democrats who wanted to hold a hearing on the Patriot Act invoked a little-known rule that required him to let them have one.

“Naturally, he scheduled it for something like 9 a.m. on a Friday when Congress wasn’t in session, hoping that no one would show,” recalls a Democratic staffer who attended the hearing. “But we got a pretty good turnout anyway.”

Sensenbrenner kept trying to gavel the hearing to a close, but Democrats again pointed to the rules, which said they had a certain amount of time to examine their witnesses. When they refused to stop the proceedings, the chairman did something unprecedented: He simply picked up his gavel and walked out.

“He was like a kid at the playground,” the staffer says. And just in case anyone missed the point, Sensenbrenner shut off the lights and cut the microphones on his way out of the room.

Just one of many Republican horror stories of intimidation and brooking no dissent. Under Republicans, Congress voted on most of its important legislation at 2 or 3AM so that it wouldn’t be covered by the media, and used the daylight hours to name post offices and give awards to Little League teams. After behavior like that, Republicans should be lucky to have a voice in the proceedings at all, and they should be honored that Barack Obama is such a big person that he’s trying to reach out to them, instead of just piss in their faces in revenge. Instead, they’ve done what the Democrats never did, which was openly set out to make sure that the country goes to shit under a President so they can hold him accountable and get re-elected into power. Imagine if the Democrats had openly stated that they hope the war and the economy go to shit under Bush so that they can win. Just imagine the outrage. There wouldn’t be any cries of “bipartisanship”, not that there were any to begin with.

But instead, Democrats have offered the olive branch while Rush Limbaugh declared that Obama must fail (with all the implications about the economy tanking) in order for Republicans to win and racists to feel good about themselves again. And Republicans have to follow Rush, and if you try to resist that, you have to call his radio show and grovel. Republicans have no reason to be cooperative, because they know that every petulant, childish move they make will be immediately blamed on the Democrats for being insufficiently alluring. I’m reminded of the way everyone blames the long-suffering wife who has been cheated on because it has to be her fault that her husband cheated on her, because blaming men (or the Man Party of Republicans) for anything is against the rules. Democrats must not be wearing enough slinky lingerie, or they nag too much and it’d drive anyone into Limbaugh’s arms so he can take you and a bagful of Viagra to the Dominican Republic.

The real story is not that Democrats aren’t trying hard enough to be bipartisan, it’s that Republicans have decided to shut down all attempts at bipartisanship, knowing Democrats will get the blame. God only knows what sort of things party leadership did to Judd Gregg to convince him that Obama has cooties. Let’s hope Matt Taibbi is on it, because no one else has the guts to dig up what threats were made to get compliance with the party line. It’s possible that promises were made, but I suspect threats, because it’s just more emotionally satisfying for Republicans to use the stick instead of the carrot.

“Bipartisanship” is a code word for one-party rule, and that party is the Republicans. You see pleas for consensus and compromise reached by letting Republicans simply win everything forever in the abortion debate. Scott Lemieux makes it a minor hobby to collect middle class men from blue states who each think they’ve got a brilliant plan for “compromise” on abortion—let anti-choicers win, knowing that any women that they know will be able to obtain legal abortion and screw the rest of us. It’s a solution that gives anti-choice leaders and politicians everything they want, including at least a couple of states like New York that have legal abortion in case they ever have a pregnant mistress or daughter who needs to go undiscovered. But the rest of us can go hang and call it compromise.

Which gets back to Jesse’s point—grown-ups realize that you can’t reach consensus on every issue, especially not when the different sides have fundamentally different goals. And while Democrats are hardly champions of the everyday American who works hard for shit pay at this point, they do differ strongly from Republicans on whether or not it’s desirable to turn the country into a banana republic with most of us living in shacks while our wealthy overlords live in walled in mansions. (For those that are confused, Democrats are anti on this issue, and Republicans are pro.) With that sort of fundamental difference, consensus is a pipe dream, unless of course you’re some rich asshole on the TV who realizes his job is safe even if the economy sinks below the waves, and therefore you think that “Republicans win even when they lose!” can be treated like the correct answer every time.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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