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What Bipartisanship Is -- and Isn't

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."

By Dan Froomkin  |  April 30, 2009; 10:58 AM ET
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I thought Obama's view on bipartisanship was sensible and well-reasoned. Some Republicans have made a great deal out of how his bipartisanship efforts have failed, or that he's falling into the old ways of doing things.

That isn't true. Congressional Republicans have stonewalled and opposed everything Obama has done out of a kneejerk reflex.

The American people have seen through that charade, though, else why would Obama have such high approval numbers and Republicans in Congress be lower than Bush?

Posted by: drewbitt | April 30, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Obama should know by now that the for the GOP bipartisanship only applies to Democrats, or it is a one way street for them.. even their own members, as Arlen Specter recently found out.

Obama needs to focus on his goals, and damn the other side if they can not compromise rationally.

He was elected for CHANGE, not business as usual.

Posted by: wowisdabomb | April 30, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

I just don't believe that the Republicans realize how much trouble that they are in. They are for sure going to lose another half-dozen Senate seats in 2010 and become almost completely irrelevant. The only people who will care what the Republicans think are Obama and Reid (and it is barely possible that Reid could lose his seat - I would contribute to anyone, Republican or Democrat, who ran against him).

Posted by: dickdata | April 30, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

"Republicans will strive not to be the party of opposition, but the party of better solutions."
- John Boehner, January 6, 2009

Through attrition the Republican Party has been reduced to a highly distilled soup of wingnut insanity with zero interest in compromise. The public sees this and knows it because it's obvious - you can't simply back down from rhetoric like "Socialist Democrats are destroying the country" without losing credibility with your few remaining allies.

Fortunately the GOP has finally gotten their act together with their brand new coalition of fresh thinkers like Newt Gingrich and John Boehner. Look out in 2010 Dems!

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 30, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

@dickdata: "and it is barely possible that Reid could lose his seat - I would contribute to anyone, Republican or Democrat, who ran against him"

Hear, hear. I hope ActBlue gets on that next year.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 30, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Bipartisanship be damned. We have eyes. The Republicans aren't interested in doing the nation's business, and they have no ideas of their own, so the only way they can return to power is if Obama, and America, fall flat on their faces.

I hope that Obama simply steamrollers over the GOP, proceeds with universal health care and aggressively reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and let the GOP twist in the wind however many elections they have to lose before they begin to GROW UP.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | April 30, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

"fresh thinkers like Newt Gingrich"

I call troll

Posted by: chrisfox8 | April 30, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

A new name for the party ... REPUBLICAN'Ts

Posted by: lunetrick | April 30, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

@chrisfox8: "I call troll"

I call broken sarcasm detector.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 30, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse


The 'fresh thinkers' line was clearly sarcasm.

Posted by: ath28 | April 30, 2009 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I just hope the rest of the nation's law enforcement takes note that crimes that occurred 'in the past' should not be investigated nor prosecuted. Even if the perpetrators are non-repentant and believe they did nothing criminal.

Posted by: davidbn27 | April 30, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

For all the Republicans standing around with their fingers in their ears saying "La la la la" ... they already are being steamrolled. By Nancy Pelosi. If Obama really has any intention of actually working with the Republicans, he needs to get Nancy Pelosi to ease off. Everything that's come out of Congress since January has been all Pelosi all the time, with no allowance for input from the Republicans (or even Reid, for crying out loud).

Pelosi is running the country right now. Obama is just her front man.

Posted by: treen | April 30, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse


"Let's not criminalize policy differences, Officer."

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 30, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Uh, Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House and she's doing what she is supposed to do. Fella, I suspect you have a problem with women in power. She has not done anything Dennis Hastert didn't do. In fact, a lot of Dems think she's been holding things back--not as much as Harry, but no one called a leader can be more feeble than Harry.

Posted by: shetuck | April 30, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

This is why Obama is so popular. He is just so dang....sensible. It takes someone who is just a complete ideologue, or someone brainwashed by rightwing talk radio, to hear Obama's comments above and disagree with them.

Posted by: unojklhh1 | April 30, 2009 8:25 PM | Report abuse

***Assessments of Obama's first 100 days have widely dinged him for failing to live up to his promises to reach out to Republicans***

Au contraire, mon ami! Many of us assessing Obama's first 100 days criticize him for "reaching out" FAR TOO MUCH to this crew of Republicans that has NO intent of "meeting halfway."

We also deplore the fact that it's taken Obama this long to figure out that "reaching out" is a failed strategy, and that in doing so [like, for example, in fashioning the stimulus bill], he gives away an awful lot for ZERO RETURN [as in, zero Republican votes].

The fools are going to vote against him anyway. Why not propose GOOD legislation, instead of this half-baked crap watered down to appeal to Republicans.

And while you're at it, get rid of Geithner & Summers.

Posted by: Mauimom | May 2, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

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