Steve Pearlstein really goes to town on bipartisanship today:
The most common misconception is that bipartisanship means finding common ground and focusing on the things most everyone agrees on. In reality, that turns out to be a pretty small set of ideas and proposals that, taken together, would not address the major challenges before us. Certainly, that is the obvious place to begin, and it would be an improvement over the current gridlock, but it won't add up to effective governance.
After all, if the only things the party in power can accomplish are those that the minority power can agree with, then what is the point of having an election? No matter which side won a majority, "common ground" -- the things they all agree on -- would still be the same.
Word. But I'm a bit less taken with his belief that the "dynamic is unlikely to change until the voters get so disgusted that they are willing to indiscriminately turn out all incumbents, irrespective of party and ideology." We're there, and have been for some time. The House has been more competitive in the past decade than in the four decades that preceded it. Every couple of years, the voters toss the majority party out of office. Americans hate how Washington works, and they keep trying to punish the people in charge.
But that just rewards the scoundrels. The people in charge aren't in charge of this. What Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole proved was that minority could make the people angry at Washington if it could bring all business to a halt and deafen voters with the partisan bickering. If Americans were dedicated students of Congress, they might respond by punishing the people who're responsible for poisoning the process. But only a quarter of Americans can identify 60 votes as the number needed to break a filibuster. Another 25 percent think it's 51 votes, and the rest don't really know. When people are angry at Washington, they do the logical thing and take it out on the folks who're putatively running the place.
That congressional rules give the minority the power to decide the success of the majority's agenda is so unintuitive that it's pretty much impossible to run elections based off the concept. Even when the voters do turn on incumbents, the majority of the incumbents come from whichever party holds the gavel, so the election is looks like a repudiation of the majority. Voting against Washington looks functionally the same as voting against the party in power, and that's why the minority acts the way it does, and will continue until it loses these tools.
February 5, 2010; 9:13 AM ET
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