Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bi-Partisanship Is Highly Over-Rated

President Obama and the Democrats need to master the art of effective partisanship.

The problem with our present political system in the United States is not a lack of bi-partisanship, it’s a lack of effective partisanship. Every four years political parties hammer out a platform identifying the problems they feel we face as a nation and stating their proposed solutions. Ultimately, very few of the remedies proposed in party platforms are enacted into law. As a result, party platforms are largely ignored by many voters, and by politicians in both parties.

This is unfortunate for citizens who long for effective government. For some of us, the position a candidate (and/or party) takes on issues we consider important is our primary means of deciding how to vote. When so few of the proposed remedies in either party’s platform get tested by being implemented, we are left with a dysfunctional government that does not address critical problems effectively.

Gridlock is, of course, one major roadblock on the path from platform to enactment. For thirty of the past forty years control of the government has been divided, with a president of one party and at least one house of Congress controlled by the other party.

There have, however, been three brief periods over the past four decades when one political party has controlled both the legislative and executive branches. President Carter had a Democratic Congress for all four years of his administration. The Democrats controlled both branches for the first two years of President Clinton’s time in office. And President Bush (the younger) had a Republican majority for four years, from 2003 through 2006.

Neither party took advantage of these opportunities to address any of the major problems facing our country with meaningful legislation. We can’t blame these failures on gridlock. The primary reason parties failed to govern effectively during these periods is the corrupting influence of money within our political system and the duplicity it evokes in politicians.

The primary goal of nearly all of our elected representatives is to remain in office. Successful politicians must master a delicate balancing act. During elections they must spout rhetoric that makes it appear that their views are in line with what the polls indicate their constituents want done. Once the election is over, they get back to the serious business of raising money for the next ridiculously expensive political campaign. Most of that money comes (with strings attached) from corporations and other special interests who oppose most of what the electorate favors.

It is understandable that President Obama wants to change this “culture of corruption” in Washington, D. C. I wish him great success in that endeavor. It would be nice to see the corrupting influence of money reduced significantly. It’s not going to happen, but it would be nice.

President Obama’s desire for bi-partisan support is also understandable to some extent. One of the president’s best qualities is his desire to compromise in order to forge a consensus, as opposed to simply ramming his own agenda through. However, the Republicans have made it clear that they will use any means necessary to keep the Democrats from implementing their platform.

They may be playing politics. They may be protecting the status quo. They may be holding fast to their basic principles. What they are not doing is compromising. The Republicans have not given an inch with regard to health insurance reform and it is doubtful that they will be any more accommodating on any other major issue.

The Republicans, however, do not control either Congress or the White House. They can not stop the Democrats from passing legislation that will fulfill the promises made in their platform without help from some of the Democratic members of Congress. If President Obama and the Democrats squander the present opportunity to enact their platform, critical problems will be left unaddressed once again.

It is time for President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress to give up on getting bi-partisan support and to focus on uniting their own party and enacting the proposals included in the platform they hammered out last year.

It may be a two-step process. Step One will involve Democrats who support their party’s platform introducing legislation and amendments to legislation in a manner that will make it easy for voters (and the party) to identify which Democratic members of Congress are blocking the implementation of the Democratic platform. Step Two is to target them in next year’s primaries. The Republicans have their “RINOs” (Republican in name only), it’s time for the Democrats to identify the “DINOs” and to start working toward their extinction.

The citizens who voted for Obama and put the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress must stay focused through next year’s election. If we do, we can add enough members to the moderately progressive bloc of representatives in Congress to enable them to get down to the business of effectively addressing the serious problems we face.

For the past forty years, members of both parties have been proving President Reagan correct in his belief that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” If the Democrats blow this chance to disprove that adage by governing effectively, voters need to take advantage of the opportunity to implement their own version of a “public option” in November of 2010 by voting the members of both parties who are blocking meaningful reform out of office Can we do it? Yes we can

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