Mitch McConnell's strategic vision
Most people don't pay attention to politics very much, and don't have detailed informed opinions about politics. But most people do have reasonably strong feelings about political parties and about political leaders. So most people reason about issues backwards from what elites are doing. Thus if you see Barack Obama propose something and then that something attracts bipartisan support, people generally conclude that it's good. Conversely, if you see Barack Obama propose a series of things that meet with universal GOP condemnation, people generally conclude that these proposals are partisan and extreme. Logically, then, the opposition party should uniformly oppose the President's ideas.
It seems to me that Yglesias -- and by extension, McConnell -- is right about the political mechanics at work. What's strange to me is that this is being hailed as a new insight. Isn't the perception of bipartisanship exactly what Clintonian "triangulation" was all about? Clinton stepped "above" left and right to attract support across traditional party lines and distinguish himself from radical partisans. Presidents throughout American history have included members of the opposing party in their cabinet as insulation against the charge of partisanship.
Of course, McConnell's not up for tenure -- he's after that Majority Leader seat. The remarkable part isn't whether his insight is new, but that he's built a corresponding game plan and executed it better than anyone else in memory.
How is it that Republicans do such a fantastic job building and maintaining unity in their caucus and through their electoral blocs while Democrats haven't? How do they hang together so well? The easy answer is still Will Rogers's: "I'm not a member of any organized party; I'm a Democrat!"
McConnell's got his own answer, which he offers in today's Post: Democratic partisanship is forcing Republicans to band together.
This partisan approach is the main reason Republicans have stuck together over the past few years. In the best traditions of the Senate, we have insisted that the views of those we represent not be ignored. The November election suggested that voters appreciated our stand against partisanship.
He cites Democratic procedural maneuvering as evidence, but this is -- at best -- a partial answer. What about Republican obstruction of uncontroversial judicial nominees? What about the protracted debate over health care? The collapse of the -- bipartisan -- climate bill? When asked to the table, Republicans haven't been willing to negotiate in good faith.
There's a certain genius in McConnell's position, and I think that it's a little deeper than what Yglesias was suggesting: it's not that his refusal to permit bipartisanship is "new," but that he's managed to frame Republican obstructionism explicitly as a defense against partisanship. He's presenting digging in the collective Republican Party heels as a response to partisanship -- successfully. That's innovation. It might not be true, but it's mind-blowingly good political rhetoric.
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