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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Pelosi and “Grassroots Bipartisanship”

Admidst continuing progressive angst that the president is addicted to bipartisanship and doesn’t understand he’s being played for a weak fool by an increasingly extremist GOP, an interesting voice emerged in USA Today: none other than former speaker Nancy Pelosi, who commemorated the handover of the House gavel to John Boehner with an op-ed entitled: “Democrats Ready to work with GOP.” The piece is a brief recitation of the accomplishments of the last Congress, and an expression of willingness to cooperate with the new Masters of the House on measures to revive and strengthen the American economy.
There’s nothing in the piece that expresses a willingness to surrender to GOP policies or priorities, not that anyone would particularly suspect Pelosi of such intentions. What she’s attempting is what in the past I’ve called “grassroots bipartisanship,” a combination of conciliatory gestures designed to provide a sharp constrast with Republicans for their obstructionist and extremist tendencies, and to lay down some markers on the broad goals Democrats have on which, theoretically, compromise with the other side might be possible, if they happened to share such goals.
In the current climate, “grassroots bipartisanship” is not designed to produce actual agreement with Republicans (though over time a few heretics might be pulled across the line). It’s instead intended to show that Ds and Rs have different basic principles and goals, not just different “approaches” to achieving those goals.
Pelosi understands that Republicans have a host of priorities much higher than creating jobs–reducing high-end tax rates, eliminating business regulations, decimating entitlements, disabling the public sector and its employees, etc.–and can’t even talk about creating jobs without first running through those very different priorities. So nothing is to be lost, and in the long run much can be gained, by making it clear Democrats share the public’s priorities and Republicans’ heads are somewhere else. This is certainly one way to reduce the impact of the MSM’s chronic tendency to depict every public policy dispute as a food fight in which both sides are equally at fault.

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