What “bipartisanship” in Washington means

"Bipartisanship" pleas are heavy on trite slogans and bereft of substance, except they usually entail even more Democratic capitulation to the Republican agenda.

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

(updated below)

Whenever the mavens of “bipartisanship” attempt to do more than spout pretty platitudes, they invariably reveal just how vapid and bereft of substance are their slogans. Former Sen. Bob Graham — who recently joined David Boren, Sam Nunn and others in threatening the country with a plutocratic Michael Bloomberg candidacy if the presidential candidates failed to become more “bipartisan” — has an Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post which is a classic entry in this genre.

Graham purports to list a slew of problems suffering from a lack of bipartisanship — “huge gaps in national and homeland security”; “Nearly 50 million Americans still have no health insurance”; crumbling infrastructure; high gas prices; and a lack of a brighter future for the next generation — and then proposes a litany of shallow process “solutions” such as a bipartisan cabinet, changes to the format for presidential debates, and regional primaries. Those “solutions” are total nonsequiturs. How would they resolve any of the intense differences over those policies? They manifestly wouldn’t.

But more importantly, “bipartisanship” is already rampant in Washington, not rare. And, in almost every significant case, what “bipartisanship” means in Washington is that enough Democrats join with all of the Republicans to endorse and enact into law Republican policies, with which most Democratic voters disagree. That’s how so-called “bipartisanship” manifests in almost every case.

Many people, especially partisans, always believe that their own side is compromising too much and that the other side is always winning, so it’s best to consult objective facts in order to know how “bipartisanship” works. Here are the vote breakdowns by party over the last couple years on the most significant and contentious pieces of legislation, particularly (though not only) in the area of national security.

In almost every case, the proposals that are enacted are ones favored by the White House and supported by all GOP lawmakers, and then Democrats split and enough of them join with Republicans to ensure that the GOP gets what it wants. That’s “bipartisanhip” in Washington:

To support the new Bush-supported FISA law:

GOP – 48-0

Dems – 12-36

To compel redeployment of troops from Iraq:

GOP – 0-49

Dems – 24-21

To confirm Michael Mukasey as Attorney General:

GOP – 46-0

Dems – 7-40

To confirm Leslie Southwick as Circuit Court Judge:

GOP – 49-0

Dems – 8-38

Kyl-Lieberman Resolution on Iran:

GOP – 46-2

Dems – 30-20

To condemn MoveOn.org:

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GOP – 49-0

Dems – 23-25

The Protect America Act:

GOP – 44-0

Dems – 20-28

Declaring English to be the Government’s official language:

GOP – 48-1

Dems – 16-33

The Military Commissions Act:

GOP – 53-0

Dems – 12-34

To renew the Patriot Act:

GOP – 54-0

Dems – 34-10

Cloture Vote on Sam Alito’s confirmation to the Supreme Court:

GOP – 54-0

Dems – 18-25

Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq:

GOP – 48-1

Dems – 29-22

On virtually every major controversial issue — particularly, though not only, ones involving national security and terrorism — the Republicans (including their vaunted mythical moderates and mavericks) vote in almost complete lockstep in favor of the President, the Democratic caucus splits, and the Republicans then get their way on every issue thanks to “bipartisan” support. That’s what “bipartisanship” in Washington means.

Leaving aside how shallow and, shall we say, unserious is this endless chirping for more “bipartisanship” — as though it’s a magic feel-good formula for resolving actual policy differences — it’s hard to imagine how there could possibly be any more “bipartisanship” in Washington even if that were the only goal. Other than formally disbanding as a party — or granting a permanent proxy of their collective vote to Mitch McConnell — how could Congressional Democrats possibly be more accommodating than they already are?

UPDATE: This superb ad, from Martin Heinrich, a Democratic candidate for Congress in the 1st District of New Mexico, makes the point about as well as a political advertisement can make a point — is it really that difficult for other Democrats to convey this message? As this ad — along with the one-minute clip from Sen. Feingold yesterday — conclusively demonstrates, it is actually quite easy to convey these points in a persuasive way for those who wish to.

Glenn Greenwald
Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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