Monday, July 13, 2009

What "Bipartisan" Means

One reason why our “democracy” is so undemocratic, not just by the standards of democratic theory but even in comparison with other existing so-called democracies, is that our electoral competitions are all but monopolized by two semi-institutionalized parties. On the whole, the Democrats are, by far, the lesser evil of the two, partly because they are “nicer” and more competent, but mainly because they depend for votes on constituencies like organized labor that, however feebly, force them into less onerous positions. But the two parties do not really differ in principle; they both represent, first and foremost, the interests of our economic elites. For this, our system of (private) campaign finance, sustained by philosophically indefensible Supreme Court decisions going back more than three decades, is partly to blame. But we should not forget that both parties are ideologically committed to the status quo in any case -- to such a degree that even full public financing would not entirely solve the problem, even if private financing (unequal economic power spilling over into electoral competitions) could somehow be proscribed.

What then does “bipartisanship” mean? Not quite what the word suggests: that two ideologically distinct political formations collaborate on common purposes. Rather, with Democrats and Republicans differing only on degrees of onerousness, it means that the two wings of what is essentially a one party state collaborate for the sake of realizing the interests of the elites they represent.

[Just to be clear, I do not mean that all Democrats are less onerous than all Republicans. There are few, if any, decent Republicans left, but there are plenty of indecent Democrats – they even have their own “Blue Dog Caucus.”]

This, at least, is what “bipartisanship” means to Barack Obama and his fellow “bipartisans.” The problem they’re confronting, though, is that the Republicans are unwilling or unable to go along. They’d rather just obstruct. They’re doing this partly for reasons they consider principled but mainly because they think it will help them eventually in electoral competitions to pander to the Fox News/right wing talk show demographic. This last belief is transparently false, but then, as noted, they are not the brightest bulbs on the tree.

Which fact underscores what the true meaning of “bipartisan” in our time and place is. What the term betokens is an unstinting dedication to suffer fools. For anyone who doubts this, watch, if you can bear it, the Sotomayor hearings about to begin – and wonder why anyone, even Barack Obama with his infinite patience and ill-conceived governing style, would want to take such fools seriously, much less go “bipartisan” with them.

No comments: