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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Chait: Why ‘Bipartisanship’ Tanked

Conservatives and even some moderates are still bellyaching about the lack of bipartisanship in Washington as if it were the fault of both parties. After 3+ years of unrelenting GOP obstruction in congress, matched by President Obama’s remarkable willingness to compromise, angering his base on numerous occasions, it certainly looks like the false equivalency bipartisanship laments are directed at the low-information segment of swing voters, a.k.a the politically clueless.
I suggest directing the persuadables among them to Jonathan Chait’s post, “Why Did Obama’s Bipartisanship Fail?” at New York Magazine, which patiently makes a compelling case that Washington gridlock is rooted in the knee-jerk right.
Chait walks his readers through a depressing litany of political manipulations by the National Rifle Association as ‘exhibit A’ of conservative’s rigid inability to negotiate anything resembling a reasonable compromise. As he puts it, “Here is an example of a single-issue lobby that has gotten 100 percent of what it wanted, yet has remained implacably hostile.”
Chait cleverly dissects the political paralysis of the GOP by using criteria proposed by a conservative writer, Peter Berkowitz in The Weekly Standard: As Chait explains:

…Headlined “Supposing Obama Were a Bipartisan,” the piece conveyed a note of skepticism that the newly elected president truly would live up to his image. Berkowitz listed seven things Obama could do to prove that he actually was the bipartisan figure he presented himself to be. Here is his list, in italics, interspersed with my update:
1. Obama should defend the integrity and independence of the executive branch that he will soon head by resisting calls from congressional Democrats to pursue criminal investigations of Bush administration officials.
Done.
2. Obama should reappoint Robert Gates secretary of defense.
Done.
3. Obama’s first appointment to the Supreme Court should be a judge’s judge, a Democrat no doubt, but one who commands the respect of conservative court watchers.
This one is sort of hard to define, but Obama’s first appointment, Sonia Sotomayor, was generally described as mainstream by Republicans.
4. Obama should institute a practice of regular consultation with members of Congress, including Republicans, perhaps inviting them to the White House once a month to compare notes and exchange views.
Obama did begin his presidency by consulting with Republicans, some of them repeatedly. Obama was stunned when the GOP leadership indicated in the opening weeks of his presidency it would totally oppose any economic stimulus plan, and announced that his defeat was their top priority. Republicans would probably reply that the ideology of his agenda left them with no choice. In any case, the causes of the breakdown of the meetings simply beg the question.
5. Obama, who has touted his support for charter schools, should endorse school choice.
Done.
6. Obama should clearly state his opposition to reviving the so-called Fairness Doctrine.
If you don’t know what this one means, it was the focal point of right-wing paranoia during the initial months of the Obama presidency. Conservatives convinced themselves that Obama was planning to revive the “Fairness Doctrine” in a way designed to close down large segments of the conservative media. It was a pure fantasy, and nothing like it ever happened or was ever considered.
7. Obama should call on public universities to abolish campus speech codes and vigorously protect students’ and faculty members’ speech rights.
Obama did not do this, as far as I know. But if he had done it I don’t think anybody would have noticed. This item, the last on Berkowitz’s list, seems like an idiosyncratic list-filler. (I also hated speech codes when I was in college, but has this issue popped up at all since 2008?)

Chait adds “So it seems that, depending on how you measure things, Obama fulfilled virtually all of Berkowitz’s criteria for bipartisanship. And yet, by August of 2009, Berkowitz himself was accusing Obama of having pulled a “bait and switch.”
As Chait concludes, “It seems overwhelmingly likely that the wall of conservative rage and distrust would have been built almost regardless of what Obama did, and that conservatives would have interpreted almost any agenda he put forward through a lens of paranoia.”
After three plus years of this predictable melodrama, it appears that anyone who reads Chait’s article and still insists that both parties are equally at fault for Washington gridlock are either rigid ideologues, terminal dimwits or conflict-averse neurotics.

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