Why bipartisan is a dirty word

By : April 11, 2010

This week the president appealed for bipartisan cooperation. Politicians frequently call for or pledge bipartisan cooperation as if it’s a good thing, but it’s usually a good thing only for the two political parties.

The average American citizen should be frightened at the very idea of bipartisan cooperation, and not because one party is always right and so should not compromise with the other. Considering that bi means two, and partisan means loyal to a party or cause, bipartisan just means we have two self-interested groups conspiring.

Let’s try nonpartisan, putting the national interest ahead of party interest for a while. Is that too much to ask? Maybe for just a week?

When we have bipartisan cooperation in Washington, we get bloated, pork-laden bills which contain wasteful spending designed to benefit incumbents of both parties. This is a bit like the bipartisan cooperation that allowed Germany and the USSR to divvy up Poland in 1939.

The two parties have created election rules that severely restrict the chances of third parties to become known to voters. Election laws are created by the two major parties, and neither wants any additional competition. Unfortunately our media cooperate by not adequately covering third parties, and by excluding third party candidates from so-called presidential “debates.” For their entertaining shock value alone, one might have expected Ron Paul and Ralph Nader to have gotten more press coverage.

Is it a coincidence that the 41 Republican Senators just happen to agree with each other on almost every issue? That the 59 Democrats just happen to agree with each on almost every issue? Is it surprising that it’s page one news when a senator says that she or he might vote with the opposition?

Of course not. Senators vote almost exclusively as their party leaders tell them to.

Years ago I asked a Massachusetts state senator how she and others were able to decide how to vote on over 5,000 bills annually, since she obviously could not read and evaluate many of them. She replied with admirable frankness that her party told her how to vote on them. To continue to receive vital party support, she had to vote the party line, although the political party would not punish an incumbent for voting against the party line if doing so would damage chances at re-election (a higher good, apparently). A Democrat representing the conservative and heavily Catholic city of Chicopee, for example, could vote pro-life rather than pro-choice, without being punished. The Republican Party had similar strictures and loopholes.

Putting partisan interest above the national interest should bother us all, but apparently doesn’t. I find it a little bit scary that we find only gentle amusement in Ronald Reagan’s elevation of party loyalty to the level of divine mandate when he said with a smile that the 11th Commandment was to never criticize another Republican.

These days I seldom hear variations of the old adage, “My country, right or wrong; but right or wrong, my country,” thank goodness. Now I hear in effect “My party, right or wrong.” If only the two major parties would allow “neither of the above” as an election ballot choice, but of course they won’t. In some elections blank votes are not even recorded or reported; one of my blank votes was disappeared by the Virginia election authority,which reported no blank votes or write-ins in the entire primary; that maintains the illusion that everyone is happy with one of the two choices. Inaccurate vote reporting is to be expected in totalitarian countries, but should not happen here.

The next time a politician proposes bipartisan cooperation, let’s demand to know why.


  1. FTF says:

    Ditto! The two political parties are really just well-dressed gangs.

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