Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Whither Bipartisanship?

As I posted earlier, I liked Kerry's concession speech. One of his themes was that we need to come together and work on the issues facing us as a country. I don't recall if he used the term, but if not, I think it would be fair to say that he was promoting Bipartisanship.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "bipartisan" as "Of, consisting of, or supported by members of two parties, especially two major political parties." So, simply put, bipartisan programs are those supported by both Republicans and Democrats. Well, maybe not quite so simply. Before 1994, Congress approached bipartisanship in a manner that would be considered traditional. Something changed in 1994, though.

In 1994, led by Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America, the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives. Overnight, the definition of bipartisanship changed in Washington D.C. I remember the change in the rhetoric. When Democrats found themselves out of power for the first time in decades, they decided to try a rhetorical end run. All of a sudden, bipartisanship was defined by the Democrats and the Media as "Republicans doing things the way Democrats want them to." Anytime Republicans pursued the policies they had campaigned on, if the Democrats didn't like it, the Democrats sent up the cry that Republicans were abandoning bipartisanship. In reality, the Democrats were trying to make the Republicans govern as if they were Democrats.

The burden of bipartisanship should fall on the Minority Party, not the Majority Party. The Majority Party in our system has all the power. If the Minority Party doesn't want to get steamrolled by that power, it is their responsibility to work toward agreement and compromise. That's what the Republicans did when they were in the Minority. The Democrats just didn't want to do it. I think part of the refusal to meet that challenge stems from the denial that Democrats seems to suffer from. In my experience, Democrats and Liberals simply refuse to believe that they are, in fact, the Minority. So, when they became the Minority Party, they tried to operate the same way they had as the Majority.

What does all this mean in 2004 and beyond? If the Democrats want bipartisanship, the burden is on them. Not Dennis Hastert. Not Bill Frist. Not President Bush.

Our system is based on the premise of Majority Rule. If bipartisanship is desirable, then the Democrats need to make the first move, and they need to realize that they probably will have to come more than halfway to "meet in the middle."

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