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June 13, 2012

If You Keep Hearing Calls For Bipartisanship, It Must Mean the Democrats Are Losing

Good think piece from Kaus, about "bipartisanship."

He questions the liberal conventional wisdom which inevitably emerges when Democrats lose power -- that real solutions must come from the center.

Note, before I get back to him, when Democrats are in power, solutions will come from the Democrats; it's only when they lose power that they begin urging that their Plan B, "compromise from the center," is so wonderful.

You did not hear much about this Plan B when the Democrats were ramming through ObamaCare on a party-line vote. (Not even party-line, actually -- Democrats joined the Republicans in opposition, but no Republicans crossed over to support ObamaCare.)

When they had sole power in Congress, they spoke of never letting a crisis go to waste, and of their "mandate." They continued speaking of their "mandate" even when the public informed them, in rally after rally and poll after poll, that they were not in fact given a mandate to take over the health care system.

But now they're losing, and Plan A (Democratic partisan power) is out the window, so only now do they turn to Plan B (why won't these Republicans agree on some compromise centrist positions)?

So it works like this: When Democrats have all the power, they should exercise it without seeking a centrist compromise with the right; when they lose power, they insist Republicans have no right to behave as they themselves did, and must compromise with the Democrats on everything.

Anyway. Back to Kaus' argument. Kaus points out that intractable problems can be solved one of two ways: Sometimes by a "compromise" from the center, but most often by one party winning decisively and simply imposing its agenda (as FDR and his Democrats did).

Either way, the problem is "solved" (though often at the cost of even bigger new problems -- but the old problem, at least, is "solved").

So he asks: Why are those who pretend to only care about solutions -- about ending the dysfunctional gridlock in government -- only entertaining plans involving compromise? Shouldn't they also simply root for a Big Decisive Partisan Victory, on either side?

To answer his question (this is my answer, not his):

Well, certainly they're really hoping for just that -- a full, indisputable Democratic victory -- but as the prospect of that seems more and more fantastical, they begin agitating more for the more realistic scenario of not having much political power, and so turn, as they usually do, to the Plan B of insisting that only "centrist compromise" will fix our nation.

Kaus is right about this. If liberal Democrats won and had full control over government, there's little doubt the entitlement crisis would be at least mitigated, because they'd tax the hell out of the middle class in order to fund it.

If New Deal-rejecting conservative debt hawks lodged an unambiguous victory, the entitlement problem would also be largely fixed, because they'd scale back on the ambitions of those programs.

There is no particular reason to be antsy about the supposed impossibility of government making changes, because, in seven months, we'll have a new government, and indeed one in which one party will probably dominate.

But if you're not really interested in "solutions" per se, but interested only in liberal-minded solutions, and realize that a one-party victory will probably be had by Republicans, if by anyone... then you'd probably start to agitate for a growing panic about the absolute necessity of Plan B, the compromise.

Something you wouldn't even be mentioning if you thought that in seven months you'd simply win, and then could substantially enact your preferred solutions.

Another good article, sort of on the same general subject, at the Daily, praising partisan fights. It's how things actually get done.

In 2010, former ABC News anchor Ted Koppel blamed the rise of cable news, which “show[s] us the world not as it is, but as partisans ... would like it to be.” In other words, the sudden democratization of opinion journalism — once the exclusive domain of newspaper journalists — has allowed too many easily manipulated people into the political process, who are better off in disinterested ignorance.

Or are they? Loud, rancorous debate is nonetheless debate, and all the evidence suggests that it entices the previously unengaged into the political fray. In Wisconsin, for example, the ferocity of debate actually produced a more informed and committed electorate. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, turnout for the recall was “off the charts by historical standards.” The deeply contentious 2008 presidential election produced the largest voter turnout in American history. In other words, partisanship achieved what public service campaigns never could: It made Americans give a damn about their political future.


Because politics is not — despite all clichés to the contrary — about compromise. It’s about making the other guy compromise. And, failing that, it’s about telling any and all who will listen that the country is being torn asunder by boneheaded partisans.

Also known as Plan B. We do it too.

But when we do it, we're entirely ignored by the media, which just talks up how swiftly and efficiently the unified Democratic government is churning out legislation.

We actually need -- at least for now -- more partisanship rather than less. Our finances are catastrophic precisely because a crucial swing bloc has refused to answer the question: Do you want lower taxes and more limited government control? Or would you like more government spending and programs?

For 40 or 50 years, they've answered "Yes." They want both lower taxes, and more government hand-outs, and also more government and also less government.

Our politics is dysfunctional because both sides in this battle are attempting to entice people who simply will not make up their minds, or even engage with the central question. And thus we have both high government spending and (once upon a time) low-ish taxes... at the cost of impending bankruptcy and disaster.

Those assailing "partisanship" -- by which they mean, really, "clear and straight ideological preferences to government" -- aren't really afraid there won't be solutions.

What they're afraid of is that the wrong party will impose its preferred solutions.

It's dishonest, and those making these claims ought to be called out for their dishonesty, rather than being praised as noble. Honesty is noble. Falsely championing "centrism" when your actual goal -- liberalism, straight-up -- is not an option is dishonest, and ignoble.

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posted by Ace at 12:31 PM

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