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Election 2008 McCain Obama Politics

McCain Bipartisanship vs. Obama Bipartisanship

[digg-reddit-me]McCain has branded himself “The Original Maverick”. He bases this assertion of his brand on the numerous times he has gone against his party and, in another branding phrase, “Put Country First.” He and his surrogates have asked constantly – and some more independent-minded writers have also asked – “When has Obama challenged his party in a way similar to McCain?” The implication, and sometimes the outright attack, is that Obama is unable or unwilling to challenge the Democratic party in the same way McCain is willing to challenge the Republican party. A good example of this is in Rick Warren’s questions to McCain and Obama at the Saddleback forum. Warren asked McCain:

John, you know that a lot of good legislation dies because of partisan politics, and party loyalty keeps people from really getting forward on putting America’s best first. Can you give me an example of where you led against your party’s interests — oh, this is hard — (LAUGHTER) — and really, maybe against your own best interests for the good of America?

For John McCain, the answers to this question are clear – he stood against his party on the issue of torture (although he later qualified his initial opposition to torturing); he stood against his party on the issue of global warming; he challenged the Bush administration on how they were handling the Iraq war; he stood against his party on Bush’s tax cuts (although he again completely reversed positions on this issue); he stood against the base of his party on the issue of immigration; and he stood against his party on the issue of campaign finance reform.1

In all of these cases, McCain stood against his party and with the Democrats. His positions were not “bi-partisan” – they were examples of a Republican acknowledging his party had the wrong position.

He went against his party’s interests because he clearly believed his party had the wrong position for America. It is also worth noting that the Republican party on all of these issues had blatantly wrong and unserious positions. Defending torture? Denying global warming despite the widespread consensus of scientists? Rick Warren’s question presumes that Republicans and Democrats are both equally wrong about the issues – and that we can get past this impasse by compromising. But that is not, in fact, the situation. He didn’t compromise and wasn’t bipartisan – he took the side of his political opponents because his party had taken an untenable position. That takes a measure of courage, but to demand Obama take stands against his party, you first have to identify similar no-brainer issues on which the Democratic party has taken a side. Obama instead is faulted for partisanship, in part, for having the same position on these issues as McCain. McCain, for coming to the same conclusions, is a maverick. What few acknowledge is that on the issues on which McCain has stood against his party, they have clearly been in the wrong.

The wedge issues of the 1990s divided the country between conservatives and liberals who competing ideologies – abortion, gun rights, affirmative action, welfare, homosexuality2 – these were issues in which both sides had entrenched positions – and on which the country was in broad and deep disagreement. These are issues on which bipartisanship and moderation and federalism are the only solutions – because to legislate either side would leave half of the population in extremely strong disagreement. And it is worth noting that on these issues Obama has embraced bipartisanship – which he understands to mean finding goals both sides agree on related to these issues (from his speech in Denver):

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.

(APPLAUSE)

The — the reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than they are for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.

(APPLAUSE)

I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.

(APPLAUSE)

You know, passions may fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers.

McCain has rejected bipartisanship on these issues in his presidential campaign – embracing a hard right position on abortion and an enforcement first approach to immigration. His examples of embracing “bipartisanship” are really just examples of him taking the Democratic position.

It’s worth noting in the days ahead how differently these two men define bipartisanship. Obama defines it as working with people you disagree with to find common goals; McCain defines it as standing with the Democrats when he can they are clearly in the right.

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  1. I have left out McCain’s Gang of Fourteen compromise which secured the appointments of Roberts and Alito – which is a rare case of McCain’s actual bipartisanship. However, it is worth noting that McCain’s bipartisanship in this instance did not actually result in a compromise for the Republicans – but in a total victory for them. []
  2. And government spending fits in here too, but not as neatly, so I will reserve this issue. []

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