Last year, when there was still a tiny bit of hope universal health care in the US might be a reality, I mentioned in A few thoughts on health care reform in the US that bipartisanship is overrated. Well, it is still overrated.
Finally, the Republican party has explicitly said they’ll be blocking just about anything the Democrats propose:
Senate Republicans plan to block debate on virtually all Democratic-backed legislation that isn’t related to tax cuts or government spending in the lame-duck session of Congress. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, and Sen. Jon Kyl, the Republican whip, added the signatures of all members of the Republican Senate caucus to a letter that promises to implement the plan.
I applaud the Republican party for finally saying this out loud. The ineffectual Democrats, who had a majority in the house and senate and had the presidency for two years, have somehow managed to flub everything up in attempts to play nice and be able to say “This was a bipartisan effort.” I’m sorry, but… no. If you can get true bipartisanship, that’s great. If you can’t, still push through some useful legislation when you have a majority. God knows that’s what the Republicans will do when they have house and senate majorities and the presidency.
Perhaps politicians just don’t get what partisanship and bipartisanship are. Let me explain.
Partisanship doesn’t mean simply disagreeing. If you think certain swamp lands should be protected from commercial development by law and I think the law shouldn’t protect them, that isn’t a partisan stance—that’s simply a difference of opinion. If you want to vote one way and I want to vote another way, that isn’t partisanship. Partisanship, at least as in so far as it is insulting or not complimentary, means you vote against or try to block legislation not because of what’s in the legislation but because of who proposed the legislation. In other words, I’m blocking what you proposed because it’s from the Democratic party, not because the law is something I don’t want.
Bipartisanship, in its laudable form, should not mean compromise. It shouldn’t mean “We watered down this legislation so that it has nothing offensive to either major political party… in fact, it’s watered down so much it doesn’t really do anything productive for either side.” This is what we saw happen with the health care bill. With all the compromises the Democrats made to try and please the Republicans (who almost entirely voted against it anyway), the bill ended up a sham… all for the sake of “bipartisanship” that didn’t even happen.
If a bill or law is truly bipartisan, that means no major compromises. It doesn’t mean one side pushing for something and then altering it so that some people from the other side might vote for a significantly altered version. If you want to impress the voting public with bipartisanship, it has to be a strong bill that both major political parties strongly support—something that really conveys “This isn’t a left or right issue or even a moderate issue. This is a human issue, and we all agree it should be addressed in this way.” And if that happens, it’s wonderful and inspiring. But if that doesn’t happen, the next best option isn’t a watered down bill that is a failed attempt at one side pushing through legislation the other side hates so that it can appear “bipartisan.”
Get stuff done. Vote your beliefs. Don’t vote your party. That goes for both Democrats and Republicans. Or, if you are going to vote your party, at least own up to it and stop pretending you’re playing nice.