Posted by: mutantpoodle | January 29, 2009

Buy Partisanship

bipartisanshipYears ago, I was at an event and a Washington Post columnist – whose name escapes me – talked about coming back from time away. If it was just a few days, he said, he felt enormous pressure to catch up on all of his newspapers (this was in the pre-internet days, and before the proliferation of cable news).

Then he went away for several weeks, and, upon his return, unable to catch up on so much past news, ditched the pile of papers and picked up that day’s paper.

And nothing had changed.

I think of that as those who watch television news are forced to watch inane punditry which is invariably absent (a) perspective and (b) intelligence. If pundits covered baseball, they’d worry about whether the game winning single was a ground ball or a line drive, forgetting that the important thing was to win the game.

So – not a single congressional Republican voted for the somewhat watered-down stimulus package that passed the house yesterday.

Not one.

This, after Obama had pulled things out to make it more palatable, and started with a package that was 1/3 tax cuts, which is supposed to be to Republicans what catnip is to cats. Not to mention a trip to Capitol Hill to talk with GOP members of Congress about the bill.

And somehow, Obama has failed to be bipartisan?

For the record, I don’t care if a single Republican votes for any piece of Obama legislation. Given my beliefs, it’s likely that legislation passed on strict party line votes is likely to be superior to anything modified to address Republican concerns. But if, after an effort has been made by the party that, how should I say this, demolished the GOP in the previous election and is clearly the choice of the people of this country to govern, and that effort is rejected, it is not the President or the Democrats who have failed to be bipartisan.

I’m talking to you, Mark Halperin.

People seem to think that everything will be perfect when everyone agrees with each other. I think it’s rather better now. Republicans got heard – they outnumber Democrats on TV, for crying out loud – but they had their chance before, and to say they blew it is unkind to the concept of blowing it.

They failed miserably. They failed because they are, um, clueless.

As Steve Benen says:

Listening to House Republicans talk about the economy is not only tedious, it’s a striking reminder that these guys don’t know what they’re talking about.

I mean that, literally. They’re clueless. There are coherent arguments against the stimulus plan, even from a conservative perspective, but actual GOP policy makers apparently aren’t familiar with them. Their arguments about the CBO are wrong. Their arguments about tax credits are wrong. Their arguments about aid to states are wrong. Their arguments about the stimulative benefits of tax cuts are wrong. Their arguments about corporate tax rates are wrong. Their arguments about housing are wrong. Even their arguments about allocation are wrong.

So the notion that anyone should listen to them when they’re simply regurgitating the last 30 years of Club for Growth doctrine is nuts.

Various lefty friends of mine are concerned about Obama’s very visible attempt to bring Republicans into the fold. They’re mad about dropping the family planning piece of the bill, or the paucity of mass transit funds, or that there are too many tax cuts.

To which my response is: see above. In a year, you’ll see whether Obama has gotten things done or not. It will take many years to know whether this bill helped restart the economy, or just kept it from sinking much further. And no one will care that no House Republicans voted for it.

So why bother? Because when you allow people into the process and they snub you, they look bad. Or, as Hilzoy says:

The function of trying to win bipartisan support, it seems to me, is to clarify things to the American people. If the House Republicans could be induced to support the bill, that would become clear, and everyone would have been better off. If, on the other hand, they were bound and determined to oppose it, no matter what, that also becomes clear. Neither would have been clear had Obama not bothered to try.

To my mind, it is generally a good idea to act on the assumption that your opponents are reasonable people. (There are, of course, exceptions: e.g., when you don’t have time.) It’s the right thing to do morally. But it’s also generally the right thing to do tactically. I think this is especially true when you suspect that your opponents are, in fact unreasonable. You should always hope to be proven wrong, but if you are not — if your opponents are, in fact, unreasonable — then by taking the high road, you can ensure that that fact will be plain to the world.

Time and again throughout the campaign, folks were convinced that Obama was making one tactical mistake after another, and time and again, his judgment was borne out. He’s got a good enough track record – and history of long-term thinking – that I’m willing to see how this unfolds. My sense is that the victory of Republican discipline shown yesterday will not, in the end, help them or hurt Barack Obama.

It will simply keep them on Rush Limbaugh’s good side.

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