Monday, 16 February 2009

Partisanship and Bipartisanship

So our President has made a solid effort, bless him, to bring Republican Lawmakers on board - sacrificing some popular programs, and spending a significant amount of time on the assumption that the other side is composed of reasonable people with reasonable concerns. The result has been... less than one might have hoped for. So is he going to keep on with these effort at bipartisan lawmaking?

"I am an eternal optimist," he says, "That doesn't mean I'm a sap."

Quite right. But the less on of this is not that bipartisanship is dead - the message is that we are going to have to do it without Republicans in Congress. Actual REPUBLICANS, however, are another story - right now Obama's approval rating is in the mid 60's. But he only won 52% of the vote - that means that an awful lot of people who didn't vote for him nevertheless are getting behind him and want to see him succeed, despite what Rush Limbaugh says.

So there are an awful lot of folks in the country who are going to support us, even if they never vote for us. Because everybody who has to live in this reality can see that if the economy tanks, it's going to take us all down with it. And those people, some of them even Republicans from deep red states, don't want to see their state laying off teachers, or watch roads and bridges crumble around them, or see their local business go under.

But Congress - well, Congress is another story. And this is where it's interesting to watch these developments from the UK.

Because, you see, here in Britain the Parties operate an incredibly strict system of vote whipping that means it is incredibly rare - newsworthy to a high degree - whenever a Labour MP, or a Tory peer doesn't vote along Party lines. But no one ever criticises the Government for failures of bipartisanship.

And this despite the fact that, arguably, the differences between the parties are much smaller here - in fact idealogically, all three British Parties could fit comfortably within the US Democratic Party. You'd think that this might lead to a lot of bi- or tri-partisanship as philosophically similar groups find plenty of overlap.

In practice, of course, this doesn't happen - for the simple reason that people understand the JOB of the parties is to draw contrasts. The main party not in Government is even described that way - they are the Opposition.

But people don't regret the loss of bipartisanship if (and this is a big if) they feel that the Government is broadly representing the majority in the country. It's when they aren't, such as in the invasion of Iraq, that opportunities are created for the opposition. In fact, with three viable parties in Parliament, it's been a long time since any one party had an outright majority of voters in hand. By definition, they can only represent a majority by coming to some sort of consensus with the voters.

In short, people aren't necessarily looking for leadership that straddles parties, as much as they are looking for leadership that represents voters.

THAT's why Obama is going to continue to find a consensus position on his policies. Not because he expects to win over Republicans in Congress, but because he needs to win and keep voters.

No comments: