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Bipartisanship is Highly Overrated

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The problem with our present political system in the United States is not a lack of bipartisanship, it’s a lack of effective partisanship. Every four years, political parties hammer out a platform identifying the problems they feel we face as a nation and stating their proposed solutions. Ultimately, very few of the remedies proposed in party platforms are enacted into law. As a result, party platforms are largely ignored by many voters, and by politicians in both parties.

This is unfortunate for citizens who long for effective government. For some of us, the position a candidate (and/or party) takes on issues we consider important is our primary means of deciding how to vote. When so few of the proposed remedies in either party’s platform get tested by being implemented, we are left with a dysfunctional government that does not address critical problems effectively.

Gridlock is, of course, one major roadblock on the path from platform to enactment. For thirty of the past forty years, control of the government has been divided, with a president of one party and at least one house of Congress controlled by the other party.

There have, however, been three brief periods over the past four decades when one political party has controlled both the legislative and executive branches. President Carter had a Democratic Congress for all four years of his administration. The Democrats controlled both branches for the first two years of President Clinton’s time in office. And President Bush (the younger) had a Republican majority for four years, from 2003 through 2006.

Neither party took advantage of these opportunities to address any of the major problems facing our country with meaningful legislation. We can’t blame these failures on gridlock. The primary reason parties failed to govern effectively during these periods is the corrupting influence of money within our political system and the duplicity it evokes in politicians.

The primary goal of nearly all of our elected representatives is to remain in office. Successful politicians must master a delicate balancing act. During elections they must spout rhetoric that makes it appear that their views are in line with what the polls indicate their constituents want done. Once the election is over, they get back to the serious business of raising money for the next ridiculously expensive political campaign. Most of that money comes (with strings attached) from corporations and other special interests who oppose most of what the electorate favors.

It is understandable that President Obama wants to change this “culture of corruption” in Washington, D. C. I wish him great success in that endeavor. It would be nice to see the corrupting influence of money reduced significantly. It’s not going to happen, but it would be nice.

President Obama’s desire for bipartisan support is also understandable to some extent. One of the president’s best qualities is his desire to compromise in order to forge a consensus, as opposed to simply ramming his own agenda through. However, the Republicans have made it clear that they will use any means necessary to keep the Democrats from implementing their platform.

They may be playing politics. They may be protecting the status quo. They may be holding fast to their basic principles. What they are not doing is compromising. The Republicans have not given an inch with regard to health insurance reform and it is doubtful that they will be any more accommodating on any other major issue.

The Republicans, however, do not control either Congress or the White House. They cannot stop the Democrats from passing legislation that will fulfill the promises made in their platform without help from some of the Democratic members of Congress. If President Obama and the Democrats squander the present opportunity to enact their platform, critical problems will be left unaddressed once again.

It is time for President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress to give up on getting bipartisan support and to focus on uniting their own party and enacting the proposals included in the platform they hammered out last year.

It may be a two step process. Step one will involve Democrats who support their party’s platform introducing legislation and amendments to legislation in a manner which will make it easy for voters (and the party) to identify which Democratic members of Congress are blocking the implementation of the Democratic platform. Step two is to target them in next year’s primaries. The Republicans have their RINOs (Republican In Name Only), it’s time for the Democrats to identify the “DINOs” and to start working toward their extinction.

The citizens who voted for Obama and put the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress must stay focused through next year’s election. If we do, we can add enough members to the moderately progressive bloc of representatives in Congress to enable them effectively to get down to the business of addressing the serious problems we face.

For the past forty years, members of both parties have been proving President Reagan correct in his belief that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” If the Democrats blow this chance to disprove that adage by governing effectively, voters need to take advantage of the opportunity to implement their own version of a “public option” in November of 2010 by voting the members of both parties who are blocking meaningful reform out of office Can we do it? Yes we can!

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About Winston Apple

Winston Apple is the author of "Edutopia: A Manifesto for the Reform of Public Education." He is a former teacher. He has a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Missouri at Kansas City (1990). He is also a singer-songwriter and recording artist.
  • Winston Apple

    Richard, I absolutely believe the two parties should disagree. There’s not much point in having more than one party if they don’t. I believe that each party should (and in theory does – in their platforms) state what they plan to do if elected. And then do what they say they will.

    I believe the corrupting influence of “corporate and lobbyist money” should be overcome by an informed electorate that reads party platforms and holds politicians to their stated intentions instead of deciding how to cast their votes based on television ads, catchy slogans, propaganda and rhetoric.

    I would add that part of the problem is trying to fit a wide range of political opinions into the platforms of just two parties. I would refer you to my post on “Proportional Representation” which proposes a system under which third parties could flourish.

    In closing, I would also refer you to “The Communist Manifesto.” Your understanding of “Communism” seems a bit shaky to me. Have you ever read Marx? I’m about as far from being a communist as a person can get. I am a strong believer in individual liberty (and responsibility).

  • Poor RIchard

    Winston, It is interesting that you obviously do not believe in the “two party” or “right to disagree” principles. The founders of the country argued and compromised over almost every aspect of our republic. The Democrats have no interest in “compromising” or listening to what the public really wants.

    It is also interesting that you believe that the Democrats should use corporate and lobbyist money to replace DINO representatives with Democrats that do not reflect the views of the constituents, but the views of the PARTY. Sounds like Communism to me….Richard Samuel

  • Winston Apple


    This stretch has barely begun and I’m already whimpering.

  • Baronius

    Winston, it’s interesting to note that each of those three stretches of one-party control ended with a bang rather than a whimper.