Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Intolerance of Ideas and Bipartisanship

Because of near unanimous opposition to the poorly planned and poorly developed economic stimulus bill many Republicans are facing the ire of the Democrats and some in the media who have decided that their opposition equates wanting America to fail. Editorials to this affect suggest that believing the economic stimulus bill is wrong, is un-American. Instead, the ridiculous expectation that some Americans must concede their beliefs and support this bill is not bipartisan; it is intolerant of our principles.

Instead, the real news should be the ridiculous notion that if this Administration reheats and rehashes the archaic and misguided policies of the FDR and Carter presidencies the results will be different this time around. And while this Administration, like FDR’s, was not responsible for the economic mess it inherited, they will be held responsible for prolonging an economic crisis through poor policy. Remember, this is not the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and those comparisons amount to nothing more than fear-mongering for the purpose of passing a bill.

Furthermore, the idea that Republicans should not oppose the stimulus because of the fiscal irresponsibility on their watch is preposterous. Someone, anyone, especially an elected public official who is salaried by the American taxpayer has the duty to stand in the way of fiscal irresponsibility. And while it may be the case that W. and the Republicans turned left in a crisis, the logic of following fiscal irresponsibility with more fiscal irresponsibility is incoherent.

So what amounted was a stimulus bill that was not bipartisan, and President Obama’s efforts in that regard were a failure. But to hold Republicans responsible for the lack of bipartisanship on this bill reminds me of a good quote from The Audacity of Hope:

"Genuine bipartisanship assumes an honest process of give-and-take, and that the quality of the compromise is measured by how well it serves some agreed-upon goal, whether better schools or lower deficits. This in turn assumes that the majority will be constrained – by an exacting press corps and ultimately an informed electorate -- to negotiate in good faith.

"If these conditions do not hold -- if nobody outside Washington is really paying attention to the substance of the bill, if the true costs . . . are buried in phony accounting and understated by a trillion dollars or so -- the majority party can begin every negotiation by asking for 100% of what it wants, go on to concede 10%, and then accuse any member of the minority party who fails to support this 'compromise' of being 'obstructionist.'

"For the minority party in such circumstances, 'bipartisanship' comes to mean getting chronically steamrolled, although individual senators may enjoy certain political rewards by consistently going along with the majority and hence gaining a reputation for being 'moderate' or 'centrist.'"

Thanks to the WSJ for drawing attention to this, it is shocking that this is not a quote from a bitter Republican complaining about the stimulus bill, it is President Obama, suggesting that he understands bipartisanship and would understand why his stimulus was nowhere close to being bipartisan.

And so, in all likelihood, the rest of this Administration will follow suit: blame for the promise and failure of bipartisanship does not belong to Republicans, the past few weeks are evidence that for all their noise they have no power, but to Democrats. It is misguided to believe a genuine hand of bipartisanship was extended only to be met with a clenched Republican fist; instead, the Republicans were offered an accomplice’s role to which most, finally, displayed some principles. The Democrats responded not with tolerance, but with claims of a mandate from the American people.

The idea that the American people gave the Democrats authorization to repeat the failures of past administrations neglects the reality that over 46 percent of Americans did not vote for Obama, none of us voted for the Stimulus (none of us even had the chance to read it), and, for perspective, only .15 percent of American voters voted for Nancy Pelosi, hardly a mandate. For Congressional Leaders to feel empowered by the American people is a crime, the Congressional approval rating recently skyrocketed from 19 percent to a whopping 31 percent (from historically poor, to a mere pathetically low), meaning, of course, that 7 of ten Americans don’t believe they gave Pelosi and her cronies any type of mandate. And while this is the reality of the American Republic, it illustrates the illusions of grandeur with which some politicians are dealing. Someone should send Pelosi and the President the writings of John Stuart Mills, because this is the tyranny of the majority in a very vulgar form.

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