In a system of two parties, two chambers, and two elected branches, there will always be differences and debate. But even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger. To confront the great issues before us, we must act in a spirit of goodwill and respect for one another — and I will do my part. Tonight the state of our Union is strong — and together we will make it stronger.
— President Bush, State of the Union, 2006
Should the president be taken at his word? Or is this empty spin designed to appease a nationwide television audience?
In the first five years of Bush’s presidency, it’s as if Republican politicians and the conservative noise machine have defined “bipartisanship” as “my way or the highway.”
If Democrats are willing to agree with Republicans, that’s bipartisanship. If Democrats want to go a different way, that’s a time for Republicans to turn to name-calling and misrepresentation of ideas — otherwise known as “partisanship.”
Earlier yesterday, Sean Hannity demonstrated this definition of bipartisanship vs. partisanship on his nationally syndicated radio show. Interviewing liberal pundit Arianna Huffington, Hannity showed off his skill as a conservative spin-meister.
He asked Huffington a series of pointed questions, which fit in well with conservative spin. Here’s the gist of Hannity’s questions — questions being posed throughout the conservative noise machine:
— Support Bush’s handling of the war on terror? Or do you want to let Al Qaeda run amok?
— Support Bush’s handling of the Iraq War? Or do you want to cut and run?
— Support warrantless surveillance? Or do you not want to gather intelligence?
— Support Bush’s judicial nominees? Or do you want liberal activist judges?
— Support Bush’s handling of the economy? Or are you a tax-and-spend liberal?
— Support Bush? Or are you a Bush-hater?
These kind of questions are just grown-up versions of the kinds of things schoolyard bullies say. They are black-and-white questions designed to offer no alternatives.
Either you’re with us or you’re against us. Either you support the Iraq war or you support Saddam (or as Hannity would say, “Either you believe Iraqis are better as a free democracy, or you support their living in tyranny under Saddam.”) Either you support the war on terror, or you want to coddle Osama Bin Laden.
That’s the sort of partisanship that has occurred over the past five-plus years of Bush as president. It’s led Vice President Cheney to meet only with the Republican leadership to plan out a legislative agenda. It’s led the White House to confer with select Republican leaders on issues such as warrantless surveillance. There’s no spirit of bipartisanship, let alone the execution of such.
If President Bush wants to change the Washington culture, and be a “uniter, not a divider,” as he suggested when he was candidate Bush back in 2000, great. He’ll find willing partners among the Democrats. But if it’s more of “my way or the highway,” then he should expect more of the same response.
There’s another reason Bush and the Republicans should reach out across the aisle. Beyond helping the country — in theory, the reason they chose elected office — the reality is that with mid-term elections barely nine months away, the Republicans can’t afford to have their popularity drop any further. And the American people are increasingly blaming the Republicans for whatever failures they see — from high gas prices to mounting casualties in Iraq.
We’ll know in a few months whether the above statement from Bush’s address was empty spin or an outstretched arm. Democrats know what they’d prefer.