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Bipartisanship or Just Politics?

The Call for Civility in Washington.


by James Leroy Wilson
January 24, 2001

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Bipartisanship or Just Politics?_James Leroy Wilson-The Call for Civility in Washington. Peggy Noonan wrote in the January 22 Wall Street Journal how President Bush, in his inauguration speech, mentioned "civility" but didn't mention "bipartisanship." I agree with Ms. Noonan that this was smart on the President's part. Bipartisanship is not an end in itself, and it isn't really even a means to an end. In a nearly evenly-divided Congress, bipartisanship is a hoped-for result, but not a goal. The goal is winning passage of a bill; the result, if successful, is bipartisanship. But passage is the main thing, not bipartisanship.

Bipartisanship is nothing more than abandoning the interests of your party for either higher or lower purposes. The higher purpose is, of course, the public interest based on personal conviction and the facts as you understand them. The lower purpose is personal electoral gain, breaking with the party because the special interest money or the polls suggest it.

Union workers provide an example. We are told that the typical union worker tends to vote Democratic. Why? Probably because he wants regulations protecting his income and workplace safety, he wants a generous safety net in case he gets laid off, he wants well-funded public schools, and he's been told the Republicans would take away all of these things as they cut taxes for the rich.

Is he Democrat because he is for abortion on demand? Because he's for affirmative action? Because he values the life of the spotted owl over jobs in the lumber industry? Because he thinks the criminal justice system is too harsh? Because he wants to weaken the military, believing that if people just sat down and dialogued, there'd be no war?

Because he doesn't trust the American people with the private ownership of guns?

I don't think so. It isn't surprising that many white working men defy their union leaders and vote Republican. The GOP is the party of social conservatism and patriotism (by which I only mean pride in American institutions, including the military), and white working men are socially conservative and patriotic. So it also isn't surprising why many southern or rustbelt Democratic Congressmen would cross party lines and vote with the Republicans frequently on issues like guns and defense. Perhaps they are voting their convictions, perhaps their voting according to lobbyist financial influence, but the simplest explanation is that they are representing the views and interests of their districts.

President Bush has an opportunity. A conservative coalition is in place and ready to govern - not that moderate and conservative Democrats will uniformly follow the Republicans on every bill, but a few votes here, a few votes there, soon enough you have passed a substantial part of the President's legislative program. Democrats representing districts and states that voted for Bush - and there are lots of them- provide the key to Mr. Bush's success. It is in their interests to understand why their districts voted for Mr. Bush, and to cooperate with him as much as conscience dictates.

Bipartisanship is not a noble ideal. If anything, it's just an acknowledgement that for an elected politician, there are some things more important than the party. Like the nation. And especially, Election Day.

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