After their monumental and overwhelming defeat in the recent midterm elections, it seems that the Democratic Party has acquired a new favorite word: bipartisanship.
The crescendo started rather slowly, with a few newly elected legislators such as Connecticut Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 suggesting that now was the moment to put party allegiance aside and work together for the sake of America. By the time Thanksgiving came around, a shaken President Obama had joined the chorus, urging Democrats, Republicans and independents to come together and “accelerate this recovery.”
If Republicans are cynical about this new, modest and cuddly Democratic message, they have every reason to be so. When one of the most overtly partisan and ideological presidents in modern history suddenly decides that he wants to be your friend, the right approach is not, as some recent commentators on this page have suggested, to make every effort to compromise with him and share responsibility for his failures. The wiser path requires Republicans to take all the time they need to consider what Obama’s motivations are for his increasingly enthusiastic attempts to reach out to them.
The American people did not vote Republican in order to tell the president that his proposals were too modest, or to ensure in-depth scrutiny of his plans. They overwhelmingly voted Republican because they wanted the country to move in an entirely different direction: a direction that recognizes that we cannot continue with the colossal expenditure that has characterized both the Bush and Obama administrations. While the Republicans have woken up to this stark reality, nothing that the president has said to date suggests that he recognizes or respects this public sentiment.
What Democrats inevitably fail to understand is that any real effort at bipartisanship has to be a two-way street. Obama and his advisors are not stupid. By fostering the illusion that the Republicans are uncooperative and obstructionist, they know that they can create the impression that they are the only reasonable and trustworthy option.
But Obama’s view of bipartisanship involves neither dialogue nor compromise. It involves the Republicans rolling over and signing on for whatever new hare-brained initiative the Democrats happen to be advocating this week because it is somehow “in the national interest.” They fail to grasp that if the American people agreed with them, they would not have turned away from their party in droves.
When Republicans vote against one of the president’s pet policies, it does not imply that they want to see the country grind to a shuddering halt; it is simply evidence that they disagree with the policy. Republican legislators would not be making any grand patriotic gesture through caving in to Democrat demands. They would be betraying the millions of Americans who rejected excessive expenditure and bloated, bureaucratic government in favor of fiscal responsibility and an acceptance of economic reality.
This is not to say that there is no common ground between the two parties, or that Republicans will benefit by forcing America into a period of stagnation. But if the Democrats want to demonstrate genuine bipartisanship — and genuine maturity — they need to wake up to reality. They need to understand that their platform has been soundly rejected by the electorate and make their approach to the Republicans in a spirit of humility.
As things stand, Republicans must see this sudden superficial show of Democratic bipartisanship as the hollow sham that it is. It is merely the last role of the die concocted by a failing and unpopular president destined to serve only one term. America can see through such opportunism and will reject it come 2012. Hold your nerve, Republicans; bigger prizes await.
Alex Fisher is freshman in Morse College.