Partisanship: Addition by Division

What if the angry right and left are on to something…

By DANIEL MACHT
|  Monday, Feb 22, 2010  |  Updated 10:19 PM PDT
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Obama's Littlest Constituents

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House Republicans sit through the State of the Union.

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It’s hip to hate on Washington these days.

A recent poll shows 93 percent of Americans agree with the statement: “There is too much fighting between Democrats and Republicans and very little cooperation.” Indeed, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) tapped into the national revulsion with political infighting last week by renouncing partisan gridlock and pledging to serve his country from outside the beltway. But what if partisanship and factionalism isn’t the kryptonite to Democracy that it’s made out to be? Here’s what some pundits are saying in defense of the angry retort:

  • “Every major milestone in American history has been won after a major protracted and partisan battle,” HuffPo founder Arianna Huffington said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Go back to the Emancipation Proclamation, the 19th Amendment, the New Deal, Medicare, Social Security, the Voting Rights Act. These were big partisan battles -- one of them involved a civil war. And so the idea that somehow we can all come to the middle and do what? Free half the slaves? Or free them from 12 to five?”
     
  •  Speaking on the same ABC panel, conservative talking head George Will said Washington pundits regularly complain that the government is broken. “These moments all have one thing in common: the left is having trouble enacting its agenda,” he said. “No one, when George W. Bush had trouble enacting his agenda on Social Security, said ‘Oh, that’s terrible. The government’s broken.’”
     
  •  Ezra Klein, writing for Newsweek, argues the presidency itself exacerbates partisanship. He points to research by political scientist Frances Lee that found when a president takes a position on an issue “the chances of a party-line vote skyrocket.” “To get an idea of the cost of cooperation, imagine that the guy in the cubicle next to you is not only competing with you for a promotion but might also lose his job if the boss likes your work,” he writes. “Think he's going to sing your praises at the next staff meeting?” Klein’s solution: either have the president back off or weaken the filibuster in Congress so the majority in power can govern successfully.
     
  •  “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the most divisive and partisan of them all?” asks Aaron Miller, a columnist at Wisconsin’s La Crosse Tribune. The answer: Americans. Miller bemoans the angry emails he gets from conservative friends and family and lambastes liberals for having never given George W. Bush credit for any successes. Americans should stand behind their elected officials until “shortly before the next votes are to be cast.”That’s the time for getting all partisany, he argues.
     
  • Over at RealClearPolitics, David Harsany argues it’s time for the bipartisanship chorus to chillax. Partisanship is “unseemly” but also “generally constructive.” “The two-party system, with all its obvious faults, allows most of you to vote for some generally acceptable envoy to advocate for whatever ideological belief system you've decided on that election cycle,” he writes. “In this system, two powerful parties of consensus try to destroy each other and, at the same time, keep an eye on polls. And if polls are any indication, it seems as if the process is working quite well these days.”

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