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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bipartianship Sliced and Diced

In the wake of the Lieberman/Lamont campaigns, past and future, there’s a renewed preoccupation across the progressive blogosphere about the nature of “bipartisanship.” The general story line is that corrupt and weak Democratic centrists, lusting for the approval of the Two David B.’s (Brooks and Broder), are determined to cave in to Bush and the GOP in the name of “bipartisanship.” This jogged my memory about a New Dem Dispatch back in January of 2001 about the likely trajectory of “bipartisanship” in the Bush era. Just for grins, and for the instruction of those who think the DLC is blind about Rovian partisanship, here it is again. Yes, it’s long, but the subject is important and complicated.DLC New Dem Daily January 9, 2001Ten Kinds of BipartisanshipGeorge W. Bush’s transition has been surrounded by a mist of unfocused talk about bipartisanship, which is said to be, along with an uncompromising commitment to his conservative campaign agenda, the most important principle guiding the first days of his administration. We thought it might be useful to bring a little clarity to the subject by outlining ten distinct types of bipartisan coalitions that have been put together over the years, and then considering which types we might see in the near future.1. The Base-In CoalitionThis strategy, pursued most successfully by President Ronald Reagan in his initial budget in 1981, involves uniting one party in Congress and then picking off sufficient members of the other to put together a majority.2. The Center-Out CoalitionAs the name suggests, this strategy begins with a bloc of like-minded moderates from both parties and gradually adds members from each side until a majority is achieved. The NAFTA, GATT and China PNTR trade bills during the Clinton Administration were enacted by center-out coalitions.3. The Outside-In CoalitionThis variety, typically used by incoming Presidents during their “honeymoon” period, involves the aggressive, direct stimulation of public opinion to push members of the opposing party, especially those from states or districts where the President is popular, to come across the line.4. The Inside-Out CoalitionBy contrast, the Inside-Out Coalition is put together through selective deal-making among members, and then sold to the public as a coherent product. Also known as “logrolling,” the Inside-Out strategy reached its zenith in the last highway reauthorization bill crafted by the King of Asphalt, the now-retiring Rep. Bud Shuster (R-PA).5. The Big Barbecue(Rare and messy.) This is a variation on the Inside-Out Coalition, but on a grand scale, involving horse trading among the leadership of both parties and aimed at a near-universal consensus. The infamous 1990 budget agreement, which led President George I to violate his no-new-taxes pledges, is an example of a Big Barbecue.6. The Emergency CoalitionThis coalition traditionally emerges in support of the President during military actions, or, occasionally, during economic emergencies. The budget summitry that briefly emerged after the 1987 stock market plunge is an example of the latter.7. The Ideological CoalitionThis strategy was the standard operating procedure in Congress during the period between the New Deal and the Great Society when there were large numbers of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and ideology replaced party loyalty on many issues. Such coalitions still emerge on some issues, such as international trade, where coalitions of pro- and anti-trade Democrats and Republicans are common.8. The Regional CoalitionOn some issues, especially agriculture and energy policy, regional factors regularly trump party. There are some signs of regional fault lines on trade and technology policy as well.9. GridlockIt’s not common to think of it this way, but partisan stalemate represents a bipartisan decision to maintain the status quo until the electorate provides a decisive election and the clear governing majority — an event that the two parties have now been waiting for since 1980.10. Partisan “Bipartisanship”This strategy, which is not, of course, genuine bipartisanship, involves a sustained campaign to convince the public that the opposing party is the only obstacle to bipartisan progress, and that one’s own party has an agenda that represents the real interests of all Americans. President Clinton’s success in projecting his agenda as representing “progress, not partisanship,” was the key to his recurring victories over Congressional Republicans in budget showdowns. Which of these ten types of bipartisanship are likely to be pursued by the new Bush Administration?The answer isn’t yet clear, but it’s important to remember the defining dilemma the President-elect has posed for the Republican Party. From the moment he announced his candidacy, George W. Bush has tried to achieve the maximum feasible change in the image of the Republican Party through the minimum necessary change in its ideology and agenda. He campaigned to “change the tone in Washington,” to create a “different kind of Republican Party,” and to pursue a new ideology of “compassionate conservatism,” but was the unquestioned candidate of the conservative “base,” and embraced a platform that was mostly composed of the age-old demands of the conservative movement.Given that dilemma, you’d have to guess that he’d like to redeem his pledge to pursue bipartisanship as quickly and as cheaply as possible so that he can then pursue his orthodox conservative agenda. That means he will promote the types of bipartisanship that involve the fewest real concessions to the opposition: Base-In Coalitions to pick off a few Democrats; Outside-In Coalitions to bring public pressure on the opposition; perhaps Inside-Out Coalitions on the Texas model to cut Democrats in on legislative deals; and above all, the Partisan “Bipartisanship” of constantly claiming that he embodies the genuine interests of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.If that’s the case, Democrats who are interested in real bipartisanship should refuse to accept the cheap variety, and raise the price for bipartisan cooperation. Then George W. Bush will finally be forced to choose between his rhetoric and his agenda, and we’ll find out how different the real Republican Party actually is. Considering that this was published before the true Rovian nature of Bush’s agenda became clear, and at a time when the mainstream media were assuming Bush would “go centrist” because of the nature of the 2000 election, I think this analysis was rather prescient, if I say so myself. But no matter what you think, it should be understood that Democratic “centrists” don’t miss the point of Rovian polarization and what that means for genuine “bipartisanship.” There are legitimate differences of opinion about how Democrats should respond to polarization, but no real argument that the word “bipartanship” has many meanings, some of them legitimate, some not so: at least ten.

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