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November 5, 2012 / Joshua

Half a Peace Sign to Bipartisanship

A couple weeks ago Andrew Sullivan had this reaction to the Republicans’ late attempt to now play the bipartisan card:

The cynicism of the GOP can sometimes make you laugh or cry. In 2009, a newly elected president was eager to reach out to Republicans, a Democrat who adopted tax cuts as a third of the stimulus, incorporated Republican ideas on the individual mandate and healthcare exchanges, increased domestic oil and gas production, decimated al Qaeda and killed bin Laden etc etc. He got zero House votes for a desperately needed stimulus in his first month as president. And yet that GOP now blames Obama for being obstructionist and portrays Romney as the great healer.

The cynicism turns my stomach. And what turns it even more is that it might just possibly work.

Several of the official endorsements for Romney I’ve read are notable for how they fully succumb to the reckless GOP cynicism Sullivan decries. The Des Moines Register, for example, broke their streak of nine consecutive democratic candidate endorsements, in part because they believe Romney will be able to break “the partisan gridlock.”

Moderate conservatives, David Brooks and David Frum, who have been critical of the GOP, nonetheless express similar hopes for a Romney win to forge “bipartisanship” or, at least, as Frum gloomily puts it,

discourage the congressional GOP from deliberately pushing the US into recession in 2013.

Gee, sounds kind of like Republican extortion when you put it that way. But all of these endorsements share a common theme of merely hoping that Romney would govern as the moderate Brooks, Frum and others think he really must be, rather than the Republican champion he has campaigned as.

But to pretend Romney will usher in bipartisan pragmatism not only ignores the party to which he has committed himself, it ignores some of his major partisan campaign promises, like refusing to raise taxes even in exchange for greater spending cuts, defunding Planned Parenthood, and repealing Obamacare entirely (on day one).

More than that, endorsing the Republican candidate in this way means legitimizing a potentially cynical fraud, a candidate who will adopt whatever mask he needs to win the game, leaving us with little idea of how he’d actually govern. In other words, these endorsements not only give Romney’s opportunism a pass, they are counting on it, because the endorsers find a good chunk of his stated agenda (and the party’s as a whole) undesirable.

Therefore, I say, rather than hope for theoretical moderation after the election, consider foremost the party Romney has vigorously courted for a chance at the White House. The Republican party is a bigger problem than the mysterious Romney, or whomever else the candidate might have been. It is the national party that incentivizes Romney’s hard right tack on many issues. I don’t necessarily buy the notion that there’s a truly moderate Mitt underneath it all, but whatever independent and moderate ideas he once had on the issues, he has largely sacrificed on the altar of his long 6 year sales pitch to the Republican base.

This is a guy who once bragged about how much money he got from the federal government for the Winter Olympics. But he’s now spent most of the last year talking about how immoral deficit spending is, even in the context of student aid and disaster relief. Much of his stated agenda is largely identical to George W. Bush’s, and he has surrounded himself with many people from the Bush years. Why shouldn’t we expect Republican party leaders to have Mitt’s favor and to successfully push him to advance the party agenda, much of which he has appeased and rhetorically committed himself to?

That leads me to the biggest problem with these endorsements: they ignore that a victory for the Republican candidate would, in effect, amount to rewarding the GOP for their ideological intransigence, confirming for them that the last four years of saying no to a democratic president (and congressional majority for the first two) at every turn is a winning strategy, at least for their party. In short, it encourages more of the same gridlock in the future.

David Frum is the most confounding on this subject. He admits to seeing little evidence that Romney will abandon the Tea Party right upon being elected. And he acknowledges the Republicans’ bad behavior, writing:

The congressional Republicans have shown themselves [to be] a destructive and irrational force in American politics.

And yet, he goes on to claim that those Republicans would be more empowered by an Obama victory! He’s probably right, at least, that an Obama win will “aggravate the extremism of the congressional GOP.” But if so, I say, so be it. If it is, in fact, extremism we are dealing with, as it seems, then for the gods’ sake, let’s not give that extremism a powerful friend in the White House nor legitimize it at the polls.

These members of the press/punditocracy explicitly acknowledging that Republicans have made the work of government (under a Democratic president) nearly impossible and then saying that’s the reason to elect a Republican president demonstrates why we can’t have nice things.

Yes, Washington is as polarized and partisan as ever. Yes, it will continue to be a struggle for President Obama and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives and the Democratic-dominated Senate to work together. Perhaps Obama and the Democrats have made legislative negotiation missteps throughout all of this, and Democrats have engaged in some obstruction as the minority before. But not to anywhere near the extent of the current GOP.

Further, there is evidence that congressional Republicans resolved even before Obama was inaugurated that they would obstruct him on every bill as part of a cynical strategy to refuse to play, then later blame the president alone for failing his promises of bipartisanship, and use that as an argument to win back power in the next elections. Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, was a part of that effort and is one of the most extreme conservatives of the party. But how many times during this campaign have we heard both Romney and Ryan blame Obama for his failure to bring Washington together?

Romney may talk up bipartisanship now, but he has embraced some of the most inflexible positions of his party on issues such as taxes, spending, and health care (all issues that President Obama has consistently been willing to find middle ground on). Romney’s party never gave compromise nor actual bipartisanship a real chance, even when faced with a new popular president elected in the midst of an economic crisis.

In my view then, the GOP is more interested in its own partisan aims and power than in pragmatic problem solving and cooperation. They have driven the gridlocked partisan mess they now claim they want to solve. A mercurial, opportunistic man wishes to lead an opportunistic self-centered party. Neither deserve to be trusted with greater power.

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