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The President’s Disastrous Version of Bipartisanship

Two weeks ago President Obama returned to the Illinois capitol. Praising the bipartisanship he had found there, he recalled that, despite having different principles, the parties had forged “compromises” that made for “progress.” He held up Illinois politics as superior to the partisan politics that infect Washington D.C. today.

The President may be nostalgic for the political culture that launched his career as a politician. But he does not have to live in the sorry state that was created in large measure by the bipartisanship he celebrates. Illinois is mired in billions of dollars in debt. Its bond rating is the lowest in the nation. It is judged the third worst state to do business. Its strong public sector unions deliver poor services at a high price.

Illinois’ failure to live within its means, and its solicitude for public sector unions, has indeed been bipartisan. Republicans controlled at least one house of the legislature until 2002 and much important legislation has had support from both parties. Illinois has also had both Republican and Democratic governors in the last thirty years, but until the election of Governor Bruce Rauner, no governor of either party seriously tried to put the fiscal house in order. Even its criminality has been bipartisan: both a Republican and Democratic Governor recently went to jail for corruption.

Indeed, the deeply indebted Illinois government is, in a sense, a natural compromise between Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats get big government, and Republicans get low taxes. Politicians in both parties win reelection and slough off the debts to the next generation. And unless a politician has the independent means of Governor Bruce Rauner, there is little opportunity for independent opposition. Bipartisanship can easily turn into a cartel for the benefit of politicians against the voters.

This bipartisanship is also not a good deal for proponents of limited government. It is not surprising that President Obama celebrates the “progress” of his years in government.  A government growing in size is difficult to pare down, given the clients and dependencies it creates. At the national level, the President’s nostalgia for bipartisanship recalls the time before conservative movement, when Republicans in Congress did not try to reform fundamentally the welfare state, only quibbled about the rate of its growth.

So we should celebrate partisanship, particularly at the state level. Let Democrats in Connecticut and Republicans in Kansas implement their visions for government. We can then evaluate the consequences.  I look forward to the information from such experimentation and even more to the relative  political accountability it brings.

Reader Discussion

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on February 24, 2016 at 10:00:51 am

Excellent succinct analysis professor of so-called bipartisanship - what in the end truly makes "we the people" bound by our masters, state and national governments. A solution that's the result of poor bipartisan conciliation doesn't make the solution any better. The result simply proves the inability of both parties to arrive at good solutions.

Of course, generally speaking, for Democrats bipartisanship virtually means agreeing with them. Consequently, why even in Republican administrations we end up with such disastrous results from compromise. Spending and regulation of private interests for the Democrat Party are their gods. Of course, they'd counter big business and low or no taxes, i.e. "anti-government", are Republican idols.

That neither claim about Republicans is very accurate, but is of Democrats only further illustrates why this President is incapable of real compromise or for that matter honest negotiation. He's driven by pure ideology, and wherein the ends always justifies the means.

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EJW
on February 24, 2016 at 10:20:56 am

Since I take plenty of opportunities to grumble with McGinnis, I’ll take this one to concur.

I disagree that Obama is the source of polarization in Washington – but that’s not the same thing as saying that polarization is bad. Economist Steven Landsburg remarked that “bipartisanship” can be understood as a kind of price-fixing, whereby competing vendors (politicians) agree not to compete on certain terms, to the detriment of buyers (voters).

I was never especially offended by Obama’s call for bipartisanship, or the failure to achieve it, in part because I never took it seriously. First, it obviously takes two to tango, and Obama has no capacity to control the behavior of the opposition. But moreover, “bipartisanship” and “cooperation” are glittering generalities. Conflict-averse voters seem to like these concepts, even if they have no substance. Thus, these terms appear in the throw-away lines in most politicians’ stump speeches.

And I sense this is the source of some of our political problems: Conflict-averse voters like a concept that is really dysfunctional in practice – as evidenced by Illinois. The drive for bipartisanship papers over honest disagreement and honest conflict, and deprives us of the opportunity for honest resolution, even when that honestly involves winners and losers.

I don’t favor Cruz’s policies, but I admire his tactics. He demands that Republicans actually live up to the policies they profess, and uses the levers at his disposal to promote those policies. The Republican Party hates Cruz because he won’t engage in the hypocrisies that the voting public has come to demand.

In sum, I sense many people here generally favor smaller government and lower taxes. I generally favor larger government and more taxes. McGinnis would prefer to live in Kansas; I in Connecticut. But I expect that we might all agree on the merits of having a sustainable balance of revenues and expenditures – both to keep government functional, and to enable voters to make meaningful decisions about the people they elect.

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nobody.really
on February 24, 2016 at 11:40:19 am

"I disagree that Obama is the source of polarization in Washington."

Why of course. His unilateral implementation approach to policy has only served to unify the country and Congress.

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EJW
on February 24, 2016 at 12:00:47 pm

We addressed that issue here.

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nobody.really
on February 26, 2016 at 12:27:28 pm

"Addressing" it, of course, does not make it conclusive. Ha!!!!

Think you are right about Cruz AND why many GOP estab types dislike him - too bad - as I think, as you say, there is a value in clear *partisanship* and Teddy Boy will probably bring it.

I think Jaffa said something to the effect that were it not for clearly defined *part(y)isanship*, we might once again resort to civil War. He did have a point!

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gabe
on February 26, 2016 at 20:53:49 pm

" I generally favor larger government and more taxes."

I suspect that you do!

So - what specifically SHALL our overseers be tasked with now. What do you envision?

shall YOUR taxes be raised? or just mine? Perhaps, we should go after those *thievin'* one-percenters who have abused property rights - oops, I forgot - every time Gummint does something new, it allows / creates another access point for those wont to abuse property rights to squeeze a little bit more out of we poor miserable souls - who without Gummint intervention surely could not decide on the proper light bulb, roofing nails, caloric content of our favorite fast food item.
These are, as the Good Sisters of Saint Joseph explained to us are the "occasions of sin." Funny, how much better life would be if we could avoid them - better yet, if the Gummint would stop creating new ones for all those property crazed miscreants to exploit.

So, what new programs do you want? Nobody really can think of something new the Gummint must do!

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gabe
on February 27, 2016 at 18:14:16 pm

Well, I wouldn't mind seeing government spending funds to manage the Zika virus. It may well be the case that government had not previously spend funds for that purpose, so this might constitute a new expenditure, which doubtless you will decry as yet another example of governmental bloat. At least, I suspect that you do!

But in case you missed McGinnis's article, I can propose higher taxes without proposing any new expenditures at all. Rather, I can simply propose we stop the hypocrisy about paying for the programs we've already chosen to implement.

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nobody.really
on February 27, 2016 at 20:08:51 pm

Zika is OK - but here is an alternative spending proposal.

Enforce immigration regulations / law and protect the border.

Perhaps, some of these once "extinct" diseases (at least in the USA) will not have a 8re-birth* in the USA.

My grandson and numerous other children have contracted "foot and mouth" disease - once thought dormant in the USA. Numerous other illnesses are once again making a reappearance on our shores - believe it or not leprosy (not contagious, of course), smallpox, etc. etc.

I think that would be a good expenditure.

And you misread me: Taxes are needed - they ought, however, not serve as a vehicle for ever new programs which as you correctly point out are not currently fully funded.
Your solution - more taxes (or more opportunity for additional occasions of sin, albeit indirectly)
My solution - eliminate all that can be got rid of; clearly there are a good number of programs that a) have outlived their usefulness, b) ought never to have been implemented and / or c) work to the opposite of their intended effect.

I'd even give more bucks to the NTSB, FAA and similar safety agencies that have not gotten "too big for their britches."

How's that?

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gabe
on February 28, 2016 at 10:13:38 am

Oops forgot this link on allowing in a certain form of diversity in infectious diseases:

http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2016/02/obama_embraces_illegals_with_stds.html

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gabe

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.