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Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Village Bipartisan Block Party

by digby

Atrios and Jim Henley both handily dispatch this mewling piece about bipartisanship from Anne Marie Slaughter in today's Washington Post, but I was struck by this question from John Emerson in Henley's comment section:

Someone has to trace this bipartisan meme to its source. It’s everywhere these days. Broder himself is too senile to be the prime mover, though I’m sure that whoever started promoting the meme penciled Broder’s name in at the top of his list of prospective vectors.

Somewhere a new well of stupidity has been opened to compete with the heretofore dominant neocon / winger stupidity stream. It would seem that some big player has abandoned the wingers and is moving toward a fall-back position. The memo is obviously out there. But who sent it?

This has actually been going on since the election and I'm a little bit surprised that it's taken so long to reach critical mass. It's coming from the Republicans, of course, aided and abetted by their beltway courtiers.
Here's something I wrote
on January 8th:

As regular readers know, I've been pondering this infuriating fixation on bipartisanship and moderation for the last couple of weeks and watching aghast as the press does the wingnuts' bidding, setting up the Dems as failing to fulfill their promise to the American people that they would be moderate and bipartisan if they won the election. This was simply not on the agenda during the election, other than that the House Democrats would restore some sort of fairness to the rules and pass anti-corruption legislation. In fact, the entire election was about the Democrats taking power to provide some needed checks and balance on the Republicans.

Oddly, however, in the last couple of weeks, the media has been obsessing that the election reflected a desire among the American people for the congress to stop fighting and work together, which makes no sense. The Republican congress didn't fight --- the Democrats just caterwauled ineffectually from the sidelines, while the Republicans did what they wanted. There was no gridlock, they passed virtually every piece of legislation they wanted and the congress was perfectly in sync with the president. If comity was what people were concerned about they obviously would have kept undivided government.

The American people voted for the Democrats because they wanted them to stop the Republican juggernaut. Look at the poll numbers. Look at the election results.

So, where is this coming from? First, it's obviously coming from the Republicans who have much to gain by whining incessantly about being trod upon by the horrible Democrats who are betraying the citizens who voted for them by being big old meanies. No surprise there. They make their money and derive their power among their mouthbreathing base by portraying themselves as being victimized --- whether in power or out, the liberals are always keeping them down.

It's also long been obvious that the political and media establishment are perfectly comfortable with noxious rightwing nutballs like Tom Delay running things, but panic at the idea of a Democrat with a pulse. Their worship of "moderation and bipartisanship" a la Jerry Ford is largely based on their irrational fear of hippies.

"Bipartisanship" is only operative when the Democrats are in power. I don't recall hearing the commentariat scolding the Republicans for not being more accommodating to Democrats during their 12 year reign of terror, do you? I certainly don't recall a lot of garment rending over how the Republicans were isolating their moderates. My recollection was that everyone was cheering the GOP's responsiveness to its "traditional values, low tax, patriotic" base. You remember --- the Real Americans? Karl Rove was widely considered to be a genius.

A couple of months later I wrote this:

We hear a lot these days about politicians who polarize the electorate or how the people in the country just want everyone to get along. The conventional wisdom is the the nation is desperate for a leader who can reach across party lines and rule in a bipartisan fashion. Like Joe Lieberman. Or John McCain. I wrote about this ad nauseum after the election as this CW was taking hold, in the hope that the Democrats were not taking it seriously.

It just ain't true. The country is polarized because it's polarized. We actually believe different things depending on how we identify ourselves politically. I know this comes as a shock to those who think that the entire country is a nation of swing voters waiting to be drawn in by our fabulous arguments, ads or beer drinking companions, but this study says differently:

The story of 2006 was that regular Americans were sick of partisan divisions in Washington. The vast and consensus-hungry middle asserted itself in November, the narrative went, finally ordering the parties and their childish politicians to stop fighting and to work together.

After the vote, bipartisanship was all the buzz, and moderation the wave of the future. But something happened on the way to the evening campfire and s'mores. House Republicans started complaining about Democrats riding roughshod into the majority, refusing to consider their amendments to legislation. President Bush announced that he wasn't going to let the opposition of congressional Democrats stop him from sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders trashed most of Bush's domestic policy proposals as soon as they were announced in his State of the Union address.

One explanation for all this is that politicians are acting against the will of their compromise-loving constituents. Another is that Republicans and Democrats are simply being good representatives. We think the evidence supports the second interpretation.

The Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) surveyed more than 24,000 Americans who voted in 2006. The Internet-based survey compiled by researchers at 30 universities produced a sample that almost perfectly matched the national House election results: 54 percent of the respondents reported voting for a Democrat, while 46 percent said they voted for a Republican. The demographic characteristics of the voters surveyed also closely matched those in the 2006 national exit poll. If anything, the CCES respondents claimed they were more "independent" than those in the exit poll.


When we combined voters' answers to the 14 issue questions to form a liberal-conservative scale (answers were divided into five equivalent categories based on overall liberalism vs. conservatism), 86 percent of Democratic voters were on the liberal side of the scale while 80 percent of Republican voters were on the conservative side. Only 10 percent of all voters were in the center. The visual representation of the nation's voters isn't a nicely shaped bell, with most voters in the moderate middle. It's a sharp V.

The evidence from this survey isn't surprising; nor are the findings new. For the past three decades, the major parties and the electorate have grown more divided -- in what they think, where they live and how they vote. It may be comforting to believe our problems could be solved if only those vile politicians in Washington would learn to get along. The source of the country's division, however, is nestled much closer to home.

This would have been a widely celebrated validation of Rove's scorched earth base strategy if the Republicans had prevailed in November. He was just being responsive to those that brung him, and that's the way democracy works, by Jove --- messy and loud, and God bless America! But sadly for the Village, the dirty hippies won the election and the only possible way the elders can keep them from enacting their crazy schemes like ending the Iraq war and providing health care for kids, is to insist that they share power with the Republicans. They still, even after all this time, believe that the Republicans are the grown-ups. I'll quote myself again:

... we are basically the janitors, winning the contract to clean up after the conservative frat boys who trashed the place for the last few years. And Daddy Broder believes his boys when they tell him it was the cleaning people who caused all the damage because he just can't bring himself to admit that they are out-of-control misfits. After all, they come from such good families and dress so nicely when they come to the club.

And as for how this meme gets spread, I will simply direct you to a piece in the NY Times book review written by Peter Beinert back in 2003:

In ''The Great Unraveling,'' Krugman tries to harness his columns into one overarching argument about the Bush presidency. In the introduction, he calls the administration a ''revolutionary power'' -- a term he takes from Henry Kissinger's analysis of France under Robespierre and Napoleon -- that wants to replace the post-New Deal order with an undiluted plutocracy. But to make his case, Krugman has to do more than merely dissect the administration's policies; he has to explain its motives and culture. And here Krugman's unconventional background becomes a liability. He criticizes Washington reporters for being prisoners of their sources, and the dinner-party-going "commentariat" for succumbing to groupthink. But guest lists that cross ideological lines can help liberals understand the conservatives they write about. And many Washington conservatives genuinely don't see the Bush administration as radical: they see it as having ratified a big-spending, culturally liberal status quo. Krugman assumes a revolutionary consciousness that may not actually exist on the ground.

There you go.

H/T Brad DeLong