Josh Akman, Columnist
Ideology: Democrat | Writing from: Washington, DC
The midterm elections are upon us. With the countdown currently at five days until November 2nd, there are certainly a lot of questions left to be answered. First, how many seats will the Democrats lose in the House? Will it be closer to the 55, like Stuart Rothenberg predicts, or more like 8,000, like the Onion predicts? Next, what happens in the Senate? Is it possible that the two candidates from Kentucky will actually kill each other before the race? Are there any more ethnic groups for Sharron Angle to offend? Finally, the most important question: What happens to Christine O’Donnell? Does she fly away on her broomstick at midnight on November 3rd? If so, we’ll miss her.
As we plod through the parlance of conventional campaign-speak (“he’s a Washington politician” “he voted with Barack Obama 165% of the time”), we learn that the more things change, the more things stay the same. The typical campaign standbys are as popular as ever. Still, as we become even more desensitized to the jabber of people who will literally say anything to get elected, there is one question that needs to be asked. Why are candidates still promising to be bipartisan?
For reasons passing understanding, it is still in vogue to campaign on the idea of “reaching across the aisle and solving problems.” Candidates promise to “end the partisan gridlock” and…blah blah blah. Of all of the lies that politicians tell, this is the most ridiculous. If we’ve learned anything from this election, we’ve learned that the only time someone in Congress will reach their hand across the aisle is to punch in the face someone on the other side. Running as someone who will be bipartisan is like running as someone who will end the Cold War. It doesn’t exist anymore.
How many more signs do we need to prove that we will only get MORE partisan, not less. Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) lost in a primary challenge for supporting TARP and for being too willing to compromise with Democrats. Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) lost a primary challenge to his left for being too bipartisan (he only became a Democrat after being pushed out of the Republican Party for being too far to the left). Reps. Bob Inglis, Parker Griffith, and Mike Castle all lost to members of their own party, too. This tells us a couple of things. One: In some parts of the country, you have to be really, really, really conservative to get elected. Two: Don’t ever run against a witch in Delaware, it’s dangerous. And three: Being bipartisan will get you fired. It’s not just risky, it’s not just unpopular; it will seriously end your career. Why are we still seriously listening to candidates who are pretending that they’ll give it a try?
Here’s another question: Do we want them to? What is so appealing about being bipartisan? In a political age that is becoming increasingly winner-take-all, the benefits to bipartisanship are becoming less clear. Take the health-care bill. In an effort to shore up the votes of reluctant Democrats, the White House took the public option off the table. This sparked absolute uproar from the left of the party, some of whom advocated scuttling the bill entirely. Compromising, once seen as one of the tenets of statesmanship, has become completely useless. If bipartisanship has become ineffective and a political liability, why is it still so politically successful on the campaign trail?
Finally, not only is bipartisanship becoming less and less popular, it’s becoming less and less possible. As former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham brilliantly points out, “We have a class of people now whose incomes, whose livelihoods, are dependent on the perpetuation of conflict as opposed to the resolution of problems… there is something different about people whose actual livings are dependent on continuing a fight as opposed to finding a solution.”
The emergence of MSNBC and Fox News as partisan propaganda networks demonstrates that partisanship doesn’t have a chance. With the Tea Party rally and Jon Stewart’s counter-rally, we’re literally marching on Washington in the spirit of partisanship. It’s not going to get any better.
So let’s stop pretending.