Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kevin Drum pretends to be David Broder

Why Bipartisanship Matters | Mother Jones:
"Bipartisanship is in bad odor these days because it's associated with a knee-jerk, David Broderish tendency to assume that the answer to any policy dilemma is automatically halfway between the liberal position and the conservative position. But that sells bipartisanship short. Where it shines is its ability to allow politicians to make tough decisions.

If all you want to do is hand out goodies — tax cuts, prescription drugs, defense contracts — life is easy. Everyone loves goodies. You don't need help from your opposite numbers to get stuff like that through Congress.

But what if you want to pass something tougher? Something that takes as well as gives? If you have bipartisan support, you can do it right: you can stand up to special interests and K Street lobbyists and enact real reform. But you can only do this if you have political cover and plenty of votes."

But, of course, this is the David Broder argument. David Broder does NOT argue for split-the-difference; David Broder argues for leaving "partisan ideology" and "partisan bickering" at the door, and having the "adults" just "get together" and "solve problems" like there are no legitimate partisan or ideological differences about policy.

The problem of assembling a governing coalition is always the same: how to enable the rational and sane to cooperate, against the corrupt and crazy.

When the rational and sane, and the corrupt and crazy, were both split between the Parties, bi-partisanship made sense, to the extent that it meant assembling the rational and sane from both Parties, to govern together. That's how Civil Rights got passed: liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans voted together against reactionary southern Democrats: voila!

And, that's how bi-partisanship got a great reputation, in a now lost era, when political polarization between the Parties was minimal, and both Parties had extremist nutcases in approximately equal measure.

The Parties are divided differently today, in case you haven't noticed, but, in the end, the motivation for assembling a governing coalition of the sane and rational remains the same: policy has consequences.

You don't want politicians to "make tough decisions" because it sounds dramatically satisfying. You want them to do so, because the consequences are serious.

The people in Congress, who are genuinely responsible and not hopelessly corrupt or stupid, are all in the Democratic Party. And, outside of the Congress, almost all of the remaining responsible conservatives are allied closely with the Administration.

If you want good policy, the governing coalition has to be assembled, within the Democratic Party. The "bi-partisan" gambit just won't work. The marginal, semi-corrupt or semi-stupid vote has to be afraid of the consequences of policy failure, sufficiently afraid that they will compromise their greed with people they recognize are smart and care about the consequences. Only a handful of such marginal votes will come from nominal Republicans; most Republicans are committed to the politics of the shock doctrine and bringing on Armegeddon, or simply don't believe in reality and policy consequences.

Now, you can argue that governance from within the majority Party simply cannot work, but the problem is not the lack of consensus, or even the lack of party discipline, which would enable those "tough decisions" of which the Village Pain Caucus among the punditocrisy has become so fond. The problem must be that responsible governing by a single Party cannot be successfully "branded" and the brand marketed. FDR managed it with a very unlikely Party, but nevermind.

We've had a remarkable experience over the last 16 years: a responsible, albeit fairly conservative President followed by an irresponsible, conservative President, from different political Parties. Now, we're back to a responsible, conservative President from Party Number 1.

I have my doubts about whether this contrast can be brand-marketed. But, my doubts concern the role of the news Media, as fair and sensible tribunes.

If Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are going to judge what constitutes responsible government, and what consequences are to be blamed on what policy, then we are in a lot of trouble.

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