Max Baucus has finally revealed his long heralded compromise
healthcare proposal, the one that promised some Republican support. Perhaps that will happen, but for now
there was no joint press conference and even Senator Snow seems unready to commit. Being the only one is impossibly lonely
these days. In fact, unless you’re
angling for a Profile in Courage Award, it’s potentially suicidal. What’s going
on here? Blame the system, a
system of disincentive.
We wring our hands a lot these days about a lack of
bi-partisanship. The President,
who promised to seek collaboration, has thus far been disappointed and in fact
seems to be losing not gaining ground in that quest. But this isn’t a problem reserved for Democratic
Presidents. George W. Bush promised
to be a “uniter not a divider”, which after the acrimonious Clinton years
probably brought him more than a few votes. He too failed.
It serves no purpose here to question the sincerity of either man’s
campaign rhetoric; the system was against both of them from the start.
It’s hard to say whether democracy itself is inhospitable to
bi-partisanship, but if history tells us anything, it is that those in and out
of power mostly go their own way.
Indeed the only time we see true bi-partisanship is at very extraordinary
moments and I stress the word “very”.
On September 11, 2001 we saw it but, even then, only for a moment in
time. Why is that?
To answer this question, we have to ask another. What’s in for the “other” party,
whomever that may be, to join hands with the opposition? We would hope the answer to that is,
plenty, if nothing else the national good. Dream on.
The fact is that, whether Republican or Democrat, helping get things
done when someone else holds the White House is a no win game. Presidents get all the credit or
the blame for what happens under their watch. Joining in is a politically thankless exercise. Why should a Republican want to support
a healthcare program that will always be known as an Obama achievement? Conversely, while some Democrats, most
notably Ted Kennedy, supported it, No Child Left Behind is a Bush legacy, as
will be any improved version of it.
Seen in that light, it may actually be better to stand in the way of
getting anything done and thus deprive the other party of any accomplishments,
or as few as possible. Sound
Of course we all deserve much better than this. We would hope those elected to office
have our mutual interest in mind.
Even assuming that they want to do the best, there is no practical
incentive to behave differently than what has become the norm. We can think little of them, and for
the most part we do, but as things stand any change in behavior is more likely
to result in them losing their office than in a getting a constituent note of
thanks or one of those courage awards.
Don’t blame them for that. Blame
all of us. We, the voters, don't reward them for bi-partisanship, and in fact through the partisan primary process do just the opposite. It’s a system of
disincentive that we are all perpetuating, all the more so in making the environment so hostile. So disincentive it is, and that really