Saturday, February 9, 2008

On partisanship

"Bipartisan legislation means that everybody gets screwed."

I can't find the first use of that quotation, but I've heard it, in one form or another, time and time again. It's kind of amusing if you're a cynic (I plead guilty), but to what extent is it true?

As a rule, bipartisan bills emerge when both Republicans and Democrats are beholden to the same special interests. A prime example is the most recent agriculture bill, which protects and subsidizes agribusiness in both Republican and Democratic congressional districts (at the expense of consumers and our trading partners overseas.) If you're not part of some powerful interest group, though, forget bipartisanship. It's of no use to you at all.

Beyond that, I'm convinced calls to "bring the country together" are frankly idiotic if they imply that Democrats should be trying to "negotiate" with Republicans. The Republican Party is controlled by extremist ideologues, and Republican legislators are too well-disciplined to break with the party without specific permission from party leaders. It's not a negotiation when it's all give and no take.

"But," you may protest, "there are plenty of times when Republicans cross over and vote with the Democrats, especially if the Democrats are willing to compromise a little."

Bullshit. Let's look at a very recent example: the (failed) Senate version of the alleged "economic stimulus package," which would have expanded the food stamp program and extended unemployment insurance. Harry Reid needed the support of nine Republican senators to stop a filibuster and pass the bill. And how many did he get?

He got eight, exactly eight. Each of the eight is a senator facing a difficult re-election bid this November, in districts where appearing to support a bill that might actually help the poor may improve the chance for electoral success. You can be sure that each of the eight had approval to vote with the Democrats, and that if a ninth tried to join them, one of the eight would have changed his vote to "no."

Forget about "working with" Republicans. The only way for progressives to make any real progress is to crush the Republican Party, weakening it to the point at which individual Republicans will be willing to break party discipline and force the ideologues out of power. If the party can get back to the way it was before the "Reagan Revolution" -- working to help small businesses and middle class wage earners rather than just the super-rich -- then cooperation and negotiation can be fruitful once again.

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