In one of the more awkward bits of phrasing, strategizing guru for the Right, Americans For Tax Reform President Grover Norquist once said -- quoting former Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX) from when he was in the House minority -- "Bipartisanship equals date rape." The argument goes that the majority party always has the upper hand in legislation and any "bipartisanship" is something gained by the minority going along with the majority's coerced will -- in essence, being taken advantage of.
Nonetheless, "bipartisanship" has been latched onto as a Holy Grail of how things should be done in Washington. It's actually a myth shared today by the Obama White House, congressional Republicans and the media. But the fact is, it's a joke that has become tired. And the media should at least let the public in on the joke.
For one thing, the sort of bipartisanship that Obama and the Democrats expect -- Republicans crossing over to support Democratic legislation -- ain't likely to happen in this Washington.
Take a look at the map. Where did the Senate GOP votes for the stimulus package come from? Roughly speaking the Northeast -- albeit, taking geographic liberties with Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter at this point. But Specter and Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe provided the filibuster-proof majority for the package. But they are just about the only remaining Republicans living in the Northeast (a notable exception, of course, is New Hampshire's Judd Gregg). In recent years, the Republicans most likely to vote with Democrats came from the Northeast, but they've been a systematically dying breed over the last several election cycles.
When Connecticut's Rep. Chris Shays lost in November, New England lost its last Republican member of the House -- pretty amazing considering that that region (along with the upper Midwest) was the base of the classic Eastern Establishment GOP that dominated the party from its mid-1800s beginnings through the 1960s.
With the demise of the New England moderate (or "RINO" -- Republican In Name Only -- as conservatives call them), the party is more geographically and ideologically cohesive: It's a Southern conservative party.
On the other side, Democrats are more consistently liberal party -- though its "diversity" can be found in the moderate Democrats who managed to grab some open House seats in the South.
Thus, the best case of "bipartisanship" in the House could be found when conservative Democrats voted against the stimulus bill. That wasn't much -- 11 in the original House vote; 7 in the final package.
So, Democrats are being disingenuous in looking for bipartisanship from Republicans, because the ones who are left are determinedly conservative. They aren't looking to betray their principles to vote for a big domestic spending bill.
On the other hand, the media should consider dropping the "bipartisan uber alles" mantra itself. Comparing Obama's substantive win (getting an $800 billion spending bill passed in less than a month) with an ephemeral loss (his promise to bring bipartisanship to Washington has failed) is a false comparison. Sure, Republicans get air time where they can cry that the president didn't "reach out" enough to them. But it ignores the fact that Obama's victory is something tangible that can be judged objectively in the days ahead. Finally, the GOP should stop whining about bipartisanship too. They don't really care about bipartisanship: They believe this is a bad bill and time will prove them right; that's why none of them supported it.
If, within several months, jobs are still being lost and the economy remains in recession, it may well be judged that the stimulus was a failure. At that point, the media should analyze whether Obama should have worked with Republicans more to get less spending and more tax cuts into the package (Republicans can say, "We told you so."). In the meantime, it's the height of silliness to suggest Obama has "failed" because conservative Republicans chose not to vote for a liberal bill.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots and dabbles in stand-up comedy.