Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bipartisanship is dead - it's 1993 all over again

The big news yesterday was that zero House Republicans voted for the stimulus. Even after Obama went through all that trouble to solicit their opinions and make concessions to get their support... it still went through on a party-line vote. To liberal commentators this means bipartisanship is dead, while on the other hand conservative commentators find it to mean bipartisanship is dead. The natural analogy being 1993-1994, where Bill Clinton passed a signature item of his Presidency, the deficit reduction bill, on a party line vote and lost lots of seats in the midterms because the economy was still sluggish and GOPers gained momentum from their opposition. I have some sympathy for the idea that you should just be passing the best legislation you can, and there is no reason to make concessions if you've got the votes... just do what's best and own it. However, while that kind of psuedo-toughness excites people like Chris Matthews, jamming things through Congress like Bush was not the platform Obama got elected on... sort of the opposite, in fact... and I don't know if anybody noticed, but Obama is really popular... and the stimulus is at least pretty popular... all things, as Dave Weigel points out, weren't true for Clinton. I just don't see the calculus working out for Republicans right now... they're more likely to be seen as obstructionist to what is going to ultimately be a fairly popular bill (tax cuts do tend to be crowd pleasers), after a good faith effort to get them involved... I think their antics come across more as spiteful than as courageous... but I guess we'll see.

Certainly they stand to gain if the bill is seen to be a failure, but wouldn't that be the case regardless of their support now? Even liberals who supported the Iraq War were able to make pretty massive gains simply because they were the opposition party.

UPDATE: Hilzoy, eloquent as always, lays out what honest efforts at bipartisanship get you.
The function of trying to win bipartisan support, it seems to me, is to clarify things to the American people. If the House Republicans could be induced to support the bill, that becomes clear, and everyone would have been better off. If, on the other hand, they were bound and determined to oppose it, no matter what, that also becomes clear. Neither would have been clear had Obama not bothered to try.

To my mind, it is generally a good idea to act on the assumption that your opponents are reasonable people. (There are, of course, exceptions: e.g., when you don't have time.) It's the right thing to do morally. But it's also generally the right thing to do tactically. I think this is especially true when you suspect that your opponents are, in fact unreasonable. You should always hope to be proven wrong, but if you are not -- if your opponents are, in fact, unreasonable -- then by taking the high road, you can ensure that that fact will be plain to the world.

In addition, in a move that should surprise nobody, Obama is not going to let opposition to job creation and tax cuts in economically tough times be forgotten.