Saturday, November 15, 2008

What an end to partisanship is and is not

Since the election the Washington Post editorial page has been filled with op-eds of the form 'Obama was elected on a pledge to do X, but he must be cautious, avoid the mistake Clinton made in moving too fast, now is not the time, better to delay, more debate is needed' and so on.

These are typical agenda denial tactics. The opponents of stem cell research, gays in the military, universal health care and so on, know that they have just lost the debate on the merits. It was called an election. So now they are trying to continue their rearguard action by arguing that it is politically expedient for a President elected by convincing popular and electoral majorities to delay policies that enjoy the support of 60% or more of the population.

When it is pointed out that these policies would all have been passed in the last Congress if not for the fact that the Democrats lacked the votes to override the veto that was certain to be used, the agenda deniers argue that Obama's pledge to end partisanship in Washington obliges him to give the Republican party an effective veto on every policy proposal.

That is not what an end to partisanship means. An end to partisanship means not attacking your opponents as traitors, being anti-American, 'pallin' around with terrorists and the like. An end to partisanship means a return to civility in public discourse and a willingness to listen to policy arguments that are made on the merits.

An end to partisanship does not require election promises to be abandoned because the other side opposes them. That was the reason for putting them in the platform in the first place: so that Obama could claim a mandate for those policies in office.

Every government faces a range of issues. Since Gingrich's 'Republican revolution' the GOP has adopted an approach where the entire party agreed to act in lockstep, deciding issues within their own caucus and then voting as a bloc on the outcome. Obama has signaled that this will not be the model for his administration. He is willing to build a working coalition from members of either party who share his goals.

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