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Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Bipartisan Bash

Now that's the guy I voted for. Big O is getting a lot of credit for walking into the lyin' den at the House GOP Caucus in Baltimore and then devouring those cats alive.

True enough. In some ways, though, I was struck by how much tougher he could have been had he wanted to play it for blood. He generally treated those crackers with more respect than their "ideas" deserve, humoring, for example, the idea that they had genuine concerns about fiscal policy or that "our side" had engaged in equivalent acts of "demonization." A more effective demolition would have repeatedly referenced "George W. Bush" and the GOP's lockstep support for his budget insanity, and then would have railed against the White House "attack machine" canard by explaining the difference between accusing the President of being a terrorist-loving, secret-Muslim, illegal alien, grandma-killing, Marxist antichrist and, on the other hand, suggesting the GOP had "no serious plan" after they introduced a budget with no numbers and a health care plan with no health care. (Poor Tom Price seemed about to cry over the fact that Obama had never come to his district and given him an award for policy "supergeniusness.")

No, Obama actually seemed to give a shit about "bipartisanship." It is the quintessential DC pipe dream, and it is Obama at his most brazenly beltway. At least he managed to find a way to score some partisan points off it this time, even if it was but a secondary objective. He turned their partisan bash into a bipartisanship bashing. Kudos.

That said, I'm not convinced its benefits will last very long. One of the more frustrating aspects of our "democracy," revealed again this year and this decade, is the irony that the more democratic your politics the less effective they are under our democratic procedures. The GOP has never liked democracy much, for ideological reasons, so they care not a wit what "the people" think about their politics or policies (Dick Cheney's infamous "So what!" to CNN's Wolf). Saboteurs at heart, they mostly just want to ensure that government does not work so that they can profit from its not working. This creates no incentive to problem solve or cooperate with the last election's winner. Democracy is so principled about universal participation that it creates an open political space even for its existential opponents. Hence the GOP conviction--stated by every questioner yesterday--that the only acceptable Dem "compromises" would be to enact a 100% GOP agenda, despite the GOP having lost the White House in a landslide and despite holding near-historic lows of representation in both houses of Congress.

Meanwhile, since for the Dems respect for the electoral process is a core value, when they lose an election they feel morally obligated NOT to obstruct. (Or at least their inner conflictedness paralyzes collective resistance.) They lose one Senate race, knocking their majority down to a mere 59-41, and they're so afraid that the American people have lost faith that they contemplate ditching a century of policy objectives. So ideology creates governing asymmetry, with anti-democrats having a built-in advantage in advancing policy via democratic procedures. This is not then merely a problem of individual fecklessness on the part of the Dems, it is a tragic design flaw at the intersection of our institutions and our culture. I'm not sure how to solve that. Maybe we should take a poll.

3 Comments:

At 12:51 PM, Blogger fronesis said...

Very nice post. You capture a sense I had about the Obama's Baltimore performance that I couldn't put my finger on, i.e. it was brilliant work, but does it really matter.

And your last two paragraphs are absolutely spot-on. You should develop them further - into a book.

 
At 5:07 PM, Blogger Gina said...

TMcD,

Am I all alone on this, or do you see a pattern in Obama's speech at West Point, his State of the Union, and his speech to the Repub Retreat in that the political optics were all about saying things to their faces, saying them with authority, and saying them in a public forum to indicate to the populace: 1) I'm not afraid of them, 2) They ought to be ashamed (in the latter two cases) and here's why, and 3) Look, voters, if these guys don't get out of the way, it's on them, not on those of us who are trying (in the latter two cases)? And is it enough?

 
At 1:17 AM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

Fro, glad you liked the post. Funny, when I was writing those last parags I thought, "this could make a good book." Of course, I'm sure much of that has already been said--asymmetry being one of the hot ideas of the last twenty years: "asymmetrical warfare," Levinasian ethics, etc. I'm also partly just extending the analysis from Pierson and Hacker's Off Center, a really good book on 00s era partisanship.

Gina, I think you're right about that tactic. It's like he's taken Clinton's "Sister Soulja" gambit and made it into a regular routine. It won't be enough to help on legislation. As he himself argued, the GOP has created a dynamic where they can't negotiate no matter what. That said, you can do a lot with that knowledge: go Franken on 'em. Start pushing legislation designed to screw them in November (like that pro-rape vote Al tricked them into). B

 

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