Monday, February 1, 2010

Why There's No Bipartisanship

Today YLF observes that Republicans have made zero concessions on any legislation, whereas Democrats continue to water down bill after bill in a vain hope for “bipartisanship.”

This is a complaint liberals have been making for years now, ever since 2007 when the purple bipartisan fairies started flying around Congress promising peace and humptiness and ponies forever, if only we could all work together. Problem is, Republicans don’t budge, Democrats fold like lawnchairs, and the legislation we get is Republican in policy with a Democratic label attached to it. The result is Democrats look like Republicans and voters wonder what the difference between the two parties is. How this is supposed to help the Democratic Party is beyond me.

I normally don’t watch the Sunday bobblehead shows, but Mr. Beale had Meet The Press on yesterday morning (until my yelling at the television caused him to turn the TV off, that is).

Here’s the part that I saw:
REP. BOEHNER:  Well, I'll give you an example.  Last year I told the president, you know, what--when we can be with you and when we agree with you, we will stand tall with you, as we did on Afghanistan, as we did on Iraq, as we did on things like teacher quality and a number of other areas.

Umm ... I don't think Rep. Boehner knows what "bipartisan" means. Standing with the president when you agree with him, oooh that's really bold. Of course, this is a feature not a bug of Republican politicians, as I’ve observed before here (to the point where one “Republican strategist” even noted that if a healthcare bill is supported by Olympia Snowe "it’s not really bipartisan”).

And then there's the second part of the Republican strategy that I think is really the key problem: robotically repeating lies about Democratic legislation to basically poison the discourse, making real bipartisanship impossible. I return to yesterday's transcript, and Rep. Boehner's quote:

But when it comes to, when it comes to health care, we could agree on a some commonsense steps to make our healthcare system work better.  But we are not going to put the government in charge of people's health care. And, and it, it's something that there's a fundamental difference here. And most of America has already said no to this big government takeover.

Rep. Boehner referred to a “big government takeover of health care” or “government-run health care” six times in under two minutes. David Gregory never once called him on it.

It’s not true, not even close to true--believe me, I wish it were (I wrote about this back in November, for anyone who wants to know what “government run healthcare” really looks like). Yet Boehner delivered his Frank Luntz-approved “big government” mantra over and over and over again, like the good Republibot he is. It's completely intentional, this repeating of scary words: repetition of certain key phrases and words is a Republican tactic to get their message ensconced in the public's mind. I don't know why Democrats never call them on it, but they don't.

And I realize this is not news. We've all written about these framing tactics, how Republicans are instructed to repeat certain Frank Luntz-approved words in every television appearance until they are heard so often, people like David Gregory don't even notice any more. Before long the Republican talking point becomes firmly ensconced in the American lexicon and a talking point is accepted as fact.

President Obama called the Republicans on this very tactic in his Q&A last week. It's very telling that despite that, Rep. Boehner continued to do it, and David Gregory continued to ignore it.

Continuing with this tactic of mischaracterizing Democratic initiatives as super-scary far left Communist/Socialist fringe ideas basically assures us that bipartisanship will never, ever happen. Because when one party so thoroughly demonizes the other party’s ideas as something dangerous to the Republic, you’ve basically made it impossible for members of your own caucus to support anything from the other side.

In other words: when you repeatedly refer to a healthcare bill that is a giveaway to big insurance companies as “a government takeover of healthcare,” then you have made it impossible for an Olympia Snowe to support it. And they’ve also made it impossible for Blue Dog Democrats to support it, because the meme has been so thoroughly ensconced in the public’s mind that the lie has become fact.

Again: I do not understand why Democrats did not call Republicans on this “government takeover of health care” lie (or any of the other lies they’ve propagated, for that matter). President Obama finally called the Republicans on this last week but it should have been done at the very beginning of this debate. Because if you really want bipartisanship, you need to first agree on the facts. There can be no bipartisanship when you can’t even agree on the basic facts at hand.

I don't know where this leaves us. I think voters are thoroughly sick of gridlock and partisan bickering, but waving a purple wand is not going to happen, either. The problems are bigger than just getting a couple Republican votes on a bill, or getting a couple of Republican ideas on a Democratic bill. The ways the parties operate has to change.