The True Meaning of “Bipartisanship”

Apparently, to President Obama “bipartisanship” doesn’t mean kowtowing to members of a minority party who are being a pack of obstructionist assholes.

“You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done,” he [President Obama] told top GOP leaders, whom he had invited to the White House to discuss his nearly $1 trillion stimulus package.

One White House official confirmed the comment but said he was simply trying to make a larger point about bipartisan efforts.

“There are big things that unify Republicans and Democrats,” the official said. “We shouldn’t let partisan politics derail what are very important things that need to get done.”


That wasn’t Obama’s only jab at Republicans today.

In an exchange with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) about the proposal, the president shot back: “I won,” according to aides briefed on the meeting.

Republicans are up to their usual tricks of spreading lies about the President’s proposal while they insist that the only possible solution to the financial crisis is tax cuts. One story they are spreading, for example, is that most of the funds in the stimulus package wouldn’t be spent until 2010. Ryan Grim explains why this is a lie. See Scott Lilly for more.

Kos asks, “Why does Obama keep thinking that ‘appealing for bipartisanship” will move a single Republican vote?’ Based on what he said yesterday, I’m not sure that’s what President Obama thinks. But it depends on what you mean by “bipartisan.”

An online dictionary defines “bipartisanship” as “of, relating to, or involving members of two parties; specifically: marked by or involving cooperation, agreement, and compromise between two major political parties.” In other words, it is two parties working together, not Party R trying to undermine the other for political advantage, while Party D passively lets them get away with it.

I think President Obama was trying to signal that if Republicans get serious about governing, and if they bring serious ideas to the table, he is willing to listen to them and work with them. But if they continue their usual pattern of playing childish political games, they can go to hell.

The adult was telling the children they can sit at the grown-ups’ table as long as they sit up straight and behave.

People across the political spectrum have got a weird idea that “bipartisanship” means Democrats must meet Republicans halfway, even if the Republicans are being ridiculous and undermining everything the Dems are trying to do. Frankly, I don’t think that’s what it means.

First, Republicans are a minority party, and an increasingly regional party. The majority of Americans should not be held hostage by the minority. Republicans have not earned the right, or the votes, to be met halfway. They can be met as far as voters’ endorsed them, but that’s less than halfway.

Second, bipartisanship requires “cooperation, agreement, and compromise.” If Republicans are just going to lie, grandstand and obstruct, there can be no bipartisanship, and that will be their fault. I think President Obama is signaling that he doesn’t want to shut the Republicans out of the governing loop, but no one will work “with” them until they demonstrate they can be worked with.

So far, they haven’t.

Update: Steve Benen reminds us of how Republicans define “bipartisanship.”

14 thoughts on “The True Meaning of “Bipartisanship”

  1. Obama’s approach in dealing with Republicans is much more adult that Tom Delay’s “if even 10 Democrats vote for it then it’s not radical enough” edicts. Obama said he was president of all of America and he’s proving that. And they’re looking increasingly small and petty. I’m liking this strategy quite a bit.

    Btw, Eric Cantor really needs to go, in my opinion. I’m ashamed to have this asshole representing a part of my state, even if it’s not my part.

  2. Barack Obama’s political instincts are better than anyone else’s I know of, including my own. That does not mean I always agree with him but if it looks like he’s making a political misstep it’s probably only because I don’t see the whole picture.

  3. I don’t think Obama thinks he can peel off more than a couple votes from the Rs in Congress. I think he does this to peel off a large chunk of the electorate who are relexively Republican.

    Maha, you convinced me that the goal of demonstrations is to make the other guys look like the bigger *ssh*l*s. That’s probably what’s going on here.

  4. After Rush farted out his “I hope Obama fails” comment, some righties have responded to the subsequent indignation with, “Oh, like you [progressives] never wished for Bush to fail!”

    Um… NO. Honestly, no. Not everyone’s ideology is so blinding that they wish ill on the entire nation once the ideology fails. There is a gigantic difference between wishing someone will fail, and watching him fail, time after time, and being appalled and enraged by that constant failure. Every progressive person I know falls into the latter category.

    Because I was either better informed or more honest than Bush about the situation in Iraq before we invaded, of course I thought the invasion was a huge mistake. But once we invaded, I never hoped for failure. If Bush & Co. had made all the right moves, and things had turned out for the best, I would have said, “Whew, that was lucky!” And then I would have helped to relieve American military families and Iraqi children of war… which I did anyway, even though Bush failed.

    Because I was better informed or more honest than Bush about the result of a Cat 3+ hurricane hitting New Orleans head-on (really, dude, you should watch Nova once in a while), of course I knew the city was about to drown. But if the National Guard had shown up within 12 hours and alleviated the suffering, I would have said, “Thank goodness for the National Guard!” And I would have donated to the American Red Cross… which I did anyway, even though Bush failed.

    So here’s yet another positive side effect of “bipartisan Change”– lots of people are waking up to the fact (finally!) that Rush Limbaugh et al are useless, self-centered haters, and the best thing every American (Republican, Democrat, or Independent) can do is ignore them.

  5. I think you should give me all your money. You probably don’t think you should give me any money (since you have no idea who I am). According to the Republican definition of “bipartisanship,” you should give me half your money. When do you think you’ll be sending that check?

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  7. According to the Republican definition of “bipartisanship,” you should give me half your money.

    No, we’re the middle class– according to the Republicans, we must pay for everything, so they don’t have to pay for anything.

    As for the whereabouts of that check, you’ll have to ask Hank Paulson. Oh no, too late! Next time ask your mom to wake you before Inauguration Day.

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  9. Last week George Will was asked how Republicans get back in the game. HIs answer was candid: “Failure”. George Will and Rush Limburger are on the same wavelength; the only way Republican can get back in the game without changing – and I emphasize but can’t underlinge ‘without changing’, is if Obama fails miserably.

    No matter what this administration acomplishes, the Right will claim it’s a failure, but when/if that’s not the perception of the middle-of-the-road voter, the Republicans are screwed in the next election, too. Not all conservatives have that view; some (particularly those up for relection in 2010 with an R by their name) see the handwriting on the wall, and want to rewrite the platform, keeping those planks that have value, and ditching the Limbaugh crowd to try to get the attention of moderates (who are NOT listening).

    At the moment, the dominant Republican view seems to be that they have no offense, no defense, and they are praying for a series of fumbles by the other team as their only way back in the game. Obama is irritated, not because it’s partisan politics, but because the country can’t afford any fumbles.

  10. Conservative pundits are taking nothing but hits these days, poor blighters.

    Our dear vegetable David Brooks just got slapped by an economist from Moody’s, on NPR’s All Things Considered. Brooks is whining that Obama’s economic recovery plan “lacks a strategy” and contains a mishmash of ideas “off the shelf.” The economist, Mark Zandi, called BS on this and then patiently explained the strategy of the Obama plan. Since it was on radio, of course I couldn’t tell if Zandi had suitably brought his explanation down to Brooks’s level, e.g., with sock puppets.

    So the word is out, kids– start talking sense or be shown up as an idiot. John Boehner’s next… he referenced an anti-Obama Plan “Congressional Budget Office report” in his opposition radio address today– after it the media had already reported that this “CBO report” doesn’t exist!

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  12. Those who have no strategy but to distort and focus exclsuvely on points of disagreement will never be motivated to identify any single point of agreement. Conceding agreement on any single point seems to be beyond them.

    It is naive to think that bi-partisanship means reaching across the aisle on issues for which there is disagreement. It’s petulant, self-defeating and even stupid to claim that there cannot some body of issue that can be agreed upon.

    No one will listen to another who is actively distorting their points.

    The choice is the Republicans. I sincerely hope they make the correct ones.

  13. They may start to get the point soon. They may be getting it now. But will they change? Can they?
    Like the town bully who’s been terrorizing the neighborhood for 14 years, they’re used to getting their way. Obama just socked them in the nose this week, and they’re crying.
    The problem is that they have NO INCENTIVE for Obama’s success. If he succeeds, like FDR, there will be no Republican majority for decades.
    So they’ve painted themselves into a corner. Unfortunately, they may be painting us in there with them.

  14. I think you should give me all your money. You probably don’t think you should give me any money (since you have no idea who I am). According to the Republican definition of “bipartisanship,” you should give me half your money.

    Actually, according to the Republican definition, you’d still expect all of my money.

    According to Harry Reid’s idea, you should get all of it and I should apologize that it took so long to give it to you.

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