Bipartisanship is Bunk

Bipartisanship is bunk -- a false and vague god heralded by political poohbahs anxious to suck up to a conflict-averse public and eager to don the camouflage of reasonableness to advance their own ends.

Immediately after five Republican members of the Supreme Court -- four of whom were appointed by the Reagan-Bush or Bush-Quayle administrations -- ruled that George W. Bush deserved more equal protection than low-income and African-American voters in Florida (whose votes were not recorded by error-prone punchcard ballot machines that are disproportionately used in counties with large black populations), the political class began blathering about the need for the country to rise above partisan bickering, to heal, to unite, to find common ground, to move on, to support the new guy, thief or not -- "to come together," as President Clinton said.

Following Al Gore's concession speech, Bush read a speech in which he maintained "the spirit of cooperation...is needed in Washington." He asserted, "I am optimistic we can change the tone in Washington, DC.... Our nation must rise above a house divided. Americans share hopes and goals and values far more important than any political disagreeements." He cited a letter Thomas Jefferson penned in 1801, after Jefferson was chosen president following a tie in the electoral college: "The steady character of our countrymen is a rock to which we may safely moor. Unequivocal in principle, reasonable in manner, we shall be able to hope to do a great deal of good to the cause of freedom and harmony."

Where was Bush's desire for harmony during the South Carolina primary when his loyalists were bashing John McCain and circulating scurrilous rumors about McCain's family and his POW stint? Where was Bush's yearning for comity, when his lieutenants -- just days ago -- were attacking the judiciary and accusing Gore of trying to "steal" an election?

In his speech, Bush also reiterated his proposed programs that divide the electorate, as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress: privatization of Social Security and a large tax cut that richly rewards the wealthy. (His tax cut even divides the GOP. House Speaker Denny Hastert has pronounced Bush's tax plan DOA.) In his first address as President-select, what did Bush offer to kickstart the bipartisanship he now holds so dear? Nothing but platitudinous words.

(By the way, the most interesting portion of that Jefferson letter -- written to Elbridge Gerry, an erratic Massachusetts politician and Declaration of Independence signer whose redistricting shenanigans later on gave birth to the term "gerrymander -- was a harsh attack on established religion. The clergy, Jefferson groused, "live by the zeal they can kindle, and the schisms they can create. It is contest of opinon in politics as well as religion which makes us take great interest in them, and bestow our money liberally on those who furnish aliment to our appetite. The mild and simple principles of Christian philosophy would produce too much calm, too much regularity of good, to extract from its disciples a support for a numerous priesthood, were they not to sophisticate it, ramify it, split it into hairs, and twist its texts till they covr the divine morality of its authors with mysteries, and require a priesthood to explain them." Bush is not likely to refer to those Jeffersonian sentiments.)

De-escalating the conflict in politics strikes many Americans as appealing, and poll after poll shows that most people want that gang of egotistical squabblers in Washington to get along. But the same citizens who eschew partisan wrangling also tell pollsters they expect Congress to deliver campaign finance reform, a boost in the minimum wage, a tough patient bill of rights, an extensive prescription drug benefit for the elderly. Yet such things do not come without a fight. Social Security, the 40-hour work week, Medicare, Medicaid, workplace safety standards, family-and-medical leave, civil rights legislation -- none came without partisan rancor.

Craftily, Bush and his comrades are attempting to use calls for healing to advance their partisan goals. House majority leader Dick Armey remarked, "America and our party will unite behind the Bush agenda of returning education decisions to parents" -- that means school vouchers -- "and eliminating unfair taxes that are stifling our prosperity." Armey is for harmony and unity, as long as that entails the surrender of those Americans who did not fall in behind Bush -- a group that includes 75 percent of voting-age persons (the half of the voters who didn't side with Bush and the multitudes who didn't bother to cast a ballot for any presidential candidate).

Bush, who will arrive in Washington a tarnished daddy's boy who triumphed in a tainted process, needs bipartisanship more than the citizenry does, particularly if his brand of bipartisanship means tax cuts for the well-to-do and handing Social Security to Wall Street.

"Bush was elected on a conserative mandate and we must vocally support him as he works to advance his core agenda," the Reverend Jerry Falwell said in an email to his followers.

Conservative mandate? Which cable news channel has Falwell been watching? As one news report noted the day after Bush's victory speech, Bush was planning to pursue "undiluted versions of his campaign proposals." Good. That should take care of all that bipartisanship foolishness.

Let's also hope that the talk about rallying round the Shrub is mostly BS that Democratic pols and pundits feel compelled to spew to prove they are true patriots willing to pander and read off the conventional script. New president? Well, pretend to be supportive. (In the case of Senator John Breaux, the New Democrat from Louisiana, flirt with him and the notion of entering his cabinet as the Energy Secretary, even if that will lead to your party losing a seat and its tied status in the Senate.)

Still, none of this happy-chat ought to impede the task of assessing Bush's fitness to hold the highest office. And there's no need to stop this exercise even though he's been handed the keys to the transition office. So here's more evidence to evaluate on this front.

A week before being appointed President by the Supreme Court, Bush was interviewd by CBS News' Scott Pelley. Earlier that day, Bush had received his first intelligence briefing (no jokes, please) from the Clinton administration.

"You spoke with your national security adviser today as well," Pelley asked Bush. "What is the principle threat facing the security of the United States?"

The reply: "The principle threat facing America is isolationism; that this nation must not retreat within our borders, that we've got to build our alliances, we've got to work with our friends.... The biggest threat facing the country is that if this nation doesn't understand our responsibility to make the world more peaceful, more prosperous, more democratic."

Huh? What nation-threatening isolationism did he have in mind? The black-helicopter-nuts who pushed Reform Party quasi-candidate Pat Buchanan over the 1-percent mark? Is this cult about to overrun the establishment and hijack US foreign policy?

In fact, of the two major-party candidates in the 2000 election, Bush was more the isolationist. He spoke of withdrawing US forces from Bosnia and replacing them with European troops (without realizing most peacekeepers in Bosnia are provided by European nations). He criticized Clinton's use of force to restore a democratically-elected president in Haiti. He indicated that (like Clinton) he would not intervene in spots such as Rwanda to forestall genocide. His answer to Pelley was practically a non sequitur.

He had nothing to say about actual threats -- global warming, fundamentalism, North-South resentment, ethnic violence that undermines allies and creates instability, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Russia's crumbling nuclear infrastructure. He could even have mentioned the right's favorite bugaboos -- China, terrorists, North Korea, Saddam Hussein -- or the less obvious threats of cyber-warfare and interruptions to the United States oil supply. (Remember Dad and Kuwait?) But instead, Bush recited a jumble of hackneyed phrases that sounded as if they tumbled off a couple of misarranged index card. What America needs to fear most is not that it "doesn't understand our responsibility to make the world more peaceful, more prosperous, more democratic."

Moreover, Bush has declared he would not intervene abroad merely to foster peace, prosperity and democracy. US strategic interests would have to be at risk, he explained. With just a few nonlogical sentences, the new commander-in-chief contradicted his own foreign policy, indicating he was unaware of his own positions. This fellow is going to need as much bipartisan slack as he can muster.

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