The Cult of Bipartisanship
by Chris Bowers, Thu Jan 04, 2007 at 10:32:53 AM EST
- Bipartisan congress: 10,037
- ethics congress: 5,958
- "minimum wage" congress: 5,754
- "Stem cells" congress: 2,131
Does it strike anyone else as strange that the hottest news topic in relation to the new Congress is whether or not it will be "bi-partisan?" If, rather than any specific piece of legislation, bipartisanship itself becomes the main for discussion, then does bipartisanship have any value left? After all, what is the value of bi-partisanship if not to better work on issues of importance to the American people? At what point did bi-partisanship become valuable for its own sake?
I think there are two causes for the media obsession with "bipartisanship" now that Democrats have taken Congress. The first, and most obvious, is simply an extension of the post-election narrative of a "conservative" (or at least moderate) victory that serves to undercut Democrats and progressive at every turn. The media has set the clear expectation that Democratic should be judged by the degree to which they are able to reduce partisan rancor, based on the utterly false notion that the Democratic electoral victory in November was actually somehow a mandate for bipartisanship rather than, say, Democrats (Democrats didn't actually win--bipartisanship did!). Of course, looking at the three open-ended polls conducted on national priorities since the election, increasing bipartisanship in Washington never once registers at even one percent. Despite the media trying to set it up as such, bipartisanship is clearly not on the mind of the American people.
The second reason is the escalating myth of a lost, idyllic bi-partisan era. It would appear that every era prior to our own was a blessed, golden time when the country was awash in a politics of unity and purpose. Now, I'm not sure when this era actually took place--perhaps it was when city machines and southern Democrats regularly resorted to violence, including murder, in order to defeat opponents from an opposing party--but the eulogizing of Gerald Ford over the past week only served to build upon the lore surrounding its existence. Basically, this is a new conservative myth, held by Republicans and LieberDems alike, detailing one more way that things were better back in the day, and why the future looks so bleak unless we revive the forgotten values of the past. It is, in a sense, like a cult of personality, but instead a cult around a mythical virtue: the cult of bipartisanship.
Perhaps this will all dissipate over the next two weeks as Democrats begin to move into meatier legislation, including a looming, Murtha-led funding fight over Iraq. However, I am not very hopeful. I think the cult of the lost era of bipartisanship is here to stay, especially as nearly every Democratic leader at least continues to pay lip service to it.
Update: Sirota has a good addition to this discussion.