Jack Newsham’s ’14 recent column (“Republicans will keep killing bipartisanship,” Nov. 9) promotes a classic and polarizing Democrat claim: He neglects the fact that bipartisanship is a two-way street. While Newsham offers examples of President Obama’s efforts to reach across the aisle, many of these gestures — such as sending National Guard troops to secure the border — have been little more than window dressing, enforcing the law uncontroversially. These acts required little to no political courage. Obama’s efforts to enforce the law are astonishingly unremarkable in comparison to Eisenhower’s decision to send troops to Little Rock to enforce school integration. In fact, Obama deserves praise for neither political courage nor pragmatism.
While Newsham’s selective history offers nebulous support for bipartisanship, more alarmingly, he empties bipartisanship of its meaning by divorcing the midterm elections from their proper context. To categorize Obamacare and the stimulus under the banner of bipartisanship absurdly ignores the basic message that voters have sent: Obama grossly misread his mandate. While defenders of the Obama administration frequently cite the economy as the source of its woes, the task bestowed upon the president in 2008 was still relatively straightforward: not to be George W. Bush. Indeed, to say that the 2010 election “was by no means a repudiation of progressivism” — as Newsham did in another recent column (“Tea party, liberals thank you,” Nov. 4) — is akin to arguing that Obama’s election in 2008 had nothing to do with a rejection of the Bush administration.
It is not unreasonable for the Republicans to ask Obama to take steps in their direction. A liberal friend of mine once told me that Obama was not an ideologue, but instead, one of the greatest pragmatists the White House had ever hosted. That idea has already and will again be challenged. But if Republicans have learned anything from their mistakes during the Bush era and those of Obama today, they will realize they simply cannot afford smugness. More importantly, as the national debt climbs to nearly $14 trillion, our country cannot afford legislative overreach. Fiscal discipline will require bipartisanship, which will not be acheived by bitter accusations from sore losers on the Left.
Both Democrats and Republicans alike could stand to learn a lot from studying two of the greatest bipartisan efforts in the 20th century: the Marshall Plan and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We owe them to the ability of principled Democratic presidents Truman and Johnson to court critical Republican leadership. We also must be careful not to overlook the moral courage of Arthur Vandenberg and Everett Dirksen, both Republicans who worked on behalf of a righteous cause by helping to build consensus on a fractious Capitol Hill. While it may be easy to romanticize times past when “politics stopped at the water’s edge,” these examples remain instructive and relevant today.
Ultimately, real leadership often requires more than drawing a line in the sand — politics is usually about getting only some of what you want. When you are told that Washington today is more polarized than ever, do not accept it. That is an excuse for the failure of big government. Instead, we need to empower and demand our leaders to deliver even-minded solutions to the problems of the day.
If Republicans and Democrats are truly serious about tackling the national debt, the road ahead will require more than taking on earmarks and reining in spending. It will involve reform of entitlement programs and the entitlement culture that asks, “What can the government do for me?”
Now is the time for principled yet pragmatic politicians to lead from both sides of the aisle. In Washington, we will continue to need more Scott Browns, Joe Liebermans and Evan Bayhs. At the state level, we will look to consensus-builders like Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie. Conservatives should showcase one of their best virtues: prudent moderation.
After all, in the end, the silent majority will speak up, the center will take America back and the politics of common sense will triumph. Some moderates may have lost in this election, but looking forward, they are about to win big. The Republican Party has the chance to transcend the “Party of No” jibes. They should jump (across the aisle) for the opportunity.
Lauren Noble is a senior in Pierson College.