Thursday, September 10, 2009

On Holding Hands Across The Aisle

Obama's speech was full of references to bipartisanship, though he didn't use that exact term. I sat there, squirming, every time I heard the compromises he suggested with the Republican Party: The party that has been running after me and others like me with a large napkin tied around its neck and a fork and a knife raised up in the air.

So it's hard for me to feel bipartisan gentleness, hard to see the bartering that goes on, because some of that bartering might end up meaning: "No, Echidne doesn't get totally eaten, but you can cut off a few chunks here and there." Am I paranoid? Sure! I blog, after all.

But it's possible to feel skeptical about bipartisanship more generally, for at least three reasons:

First, Grover Norquist called it "date rape," and I'm sure that many Republicans agree with that definition. Joe Wilson calling Obama a liar is not bipartisanship. The Republicans booing is not bipartisanship. Most of the Republican statements I have heard in the context of health care reform are not about bipartisanship. They are about destroying any possibility of reform.

Second, I saw only minimal bipartisanship during the Bush years, minimal, and I suspect that bipartisanship now is something that is stressed only because the Republicans are temporarily out of power. Once they are back in we will never hear that term again. In short, I don't believe that the Republicans want to be bipartisan. Not in the true sense of the word, though of course they'd like to get their policies executed by the other side of the aisle. Who wouldn't?

Third, I'm seriously wondering if there IS a middle in American politics. Many people think that this is how the political picture in the US might look: Most people are in the middle:

(The vertical axis in my interpretation measures the relative numbers of people with various beliefs. The horizontal axis measures increasing conservatism or liberalism)

But I'm not so sure. I think this might better describe the U.S. political views:

Note how the middle is almost empty? Note how the two concentrations (where the relative mass of people might lie) are apart from each other?

My theory might be wrong, but I'd like to explore it a little, because IF it is right, bipartisanship is much, much more difficult than we imagine. Much more must be given away to lure the other side to participate.

This doesn't make the task impossible, and I can well understand how at least talking bipartisanship might help with the unaffiliated voters. But what bipartisanship means for them might not be what it would end up meaning in the Congress.