Ezra Klein makes an important observation that – for those who accept it – changes dramatically how the political battles of the Obama administration are viewed:
We are less bipartisan in process even as we have become more bipartisan in substance.
Klein points out – as I had earlier – how Obama’s proposals for health care reform and cap and trade for example both have a solid grounding in previous Republican approaches to these problems – and in fact take into account many of the Republicans’ deep-seated distrusted of government action in general. Yet despite this, Republicans have continued to claim that Obama is the second-coming of Stalin – repudiating ideas they only a short time ago embraced.
One can see the seeds of this entrenchment against Obama in the Republican reaction to Bill Clinton – as they truly hated and demonized the man as a radical leftist even as he governed as a moderate liberal. Republicans were still willing to work with Clinton on a number of initiatives including welfare reform. Thus far, they have embraced a nihilistic path of pure opposition to Obama.
The Democrats did not similarly react to George W. Bush – as they proved willing to work with him on matters that they held to be important and/or which were popular with their constituencies. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act, Bush’s several rounds of tax cuts, and Medicare Part D. Democrats were willing to work with the White House despite the extremely partisan processes instituted in Congress cutting Democrats off from policy-making. And they were willing to hand Bush victories that were not “bipartisan in substance” – most especially his tax cuts which were thoroughly partisan and ideologically motivated.
In other words – Klein’s statement that, “We are less bipartisan in process even as we have become more bipartisan in substance” only holds true for the past year. To some degree, this is House Democrats fault for making the process less bipartisan – but I find it hard to blame them considering the unprecedented procedural tactics used by the Republicans as well as their unprincipled intransigence.