I ran across an interesting opinion piece in USA Today from Tuesday. It was entitled "No, we shouldn't get along" (go to http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2012/10/09/bipartisanship-election-congress/1620775/) and was written by a man named Duncan Black. What I found interesting about the piece is that he argues against a certain type of bipartisanship.
Basically, he argues that for many people, bipartisanship seems to be an end in and of itself. He also argues that politicians often use the idea of bipartisanship in order to avoid taking blame for something. He also argues that many people use bipartisanship to fudge the differences between the parties. So Mr. Black argues that true bipartisanship requires that the people involved talk and come to a true consensus.
Overall, I have to say that I agree with Mr. Black. Bipartisanship, agreements, etc. should never be an end in and of themselves. Rather, they should be a means to an end. In the case of bipartisanship, the end should be laws passed for the common good. The two parties need to come together and have an honest discussion of their differences in order come to an agreement. In any good compromise, neither side will get everything that it wants nor should either side give up on important, basic principles.
Now we come to the current circumstances in DC. The main problem is that you have two completely different mindsets about government. [Before I continue, I am going to be making some generalizations. I know that what I am about to say does not apply to every Republican or every Democrat, but for the purposes of this discussion, let's assume they are monolithic entities.] The Democratic Party looks at government as having broad powers to remedy injustices and care for people. The Republican Party holds that the government has certain strictly defined powers. The government may not venture outside of these powers and if it does, it is violating the Constitution. One corollary to this belief is the idea that by paralyzing the government, something of substance is being achieved. So gridlock tends to be something that the Republican Party would favor by default.
This is even more true now the the Republican Party has been captured by the Tea Party. The Tea Party basically is a coalition of the ultraconservative parts of the country. They are inveighing against any compromises because they view any compromise as a betrayal of central principles. This is in part a reaction to the broken promises of both President Bushes and in part a reaction to the election and principles of Obama. As I mentioned in my election post yesterday, some people hold their political principles to be almost divinely inspired, and that is a large part of the reason behind this thinking.
So, where am I going with this? I guess what I am saying is that Mr. Black is correct. Bipartisanship is a laudable thing if it is used prudently and in moderation. Unfortunately, given the current conditions of the country, bipartisanship is pretty much useless at this point since one side will not compromise.
One other point, I want to make is that another reason for the difficulties passing laws is that the Republican Party is acting like a loyal opposition party from a parliamentary democracy. Under a parliamentary democracy, the job of the minority is to oppose everything the government wants to do. Sound familiar? That's because this is how the Republicans are acting. Rather than trying to act like the Congressional majority and affect change, it is acting as a stumbling block.