What Bipartisanship Is -- and Isn't

By Dan Froomkin
10:58 AM ET, 04/30/2009

President Obama last night tried to correct a widely held misunderstanding of what bipartisanship means.

It doesn't, he said, mean that the majority party abandons its core philosophies and adopts those of the minority. It means the two parties try to find common ground around the edges.

Assessments of Obama's first 100 days have widely dinged him for failing to live up to his promises to reach out to Republicans. But Obama said last night that his efforts to reach out have been sincere. It's just that winning an election doesn't mean you then abandon the principles you campaigned on -- and evidently that has disappointed Republicans.

Obama also decried how much political posturing continues among elected officials even during a period of crisis.

From the transcript:

I do think that, to my Republican friends, I want them to realize that me reaching out to them has been genuine. I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work and the American people voted to change. But there are a whole host of areas where we can work together.

And I've said this to people like Mitch McConnell. I said, look, on health care reform, you may not agree with me that we should have a public plan -- that may be philosophically just too much for you to swallow. On the other hand, there are some areas, like reducing the cost of medical malpractice insurance where you do agree with me. If I'm taking some of your ideas -- and giving you credit for good ideas -- the fact that you didn't get a hundred percent can't be a reason every single time to oppose my position. And if that is how bipartisanship is defined -- a situation in which, basically, wherever there are philosophical differences I have to simply go along with ideas that have been rejected by the American people in a historic election, we're probably not going to make progress.

If, on the other hand, the definition is that we're open to each other's ideas, there are going to be some differences, the majority will be probably be determinative when it comes to resolving just hard-core differences that we can't resolve, but there's a whole host of other areas where we can work together, then I think we can make progress.

And later, when asked to talk about something that troubled him, he spoke of "the fact that change in Washington comes slowly; that there is still a certain quotient of political posturing and bickering that takes place even when we're in the middle of really big crises. I would like to think that everybody would say, you know what, let's take a timeout on some of the political games, focus our attention for at least this year and then we can start running for something next year. And that hasn't happened as much as I would have liked."

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