Bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship

BIPARTISANSHIP FOR THE SAKE OF BIPARTISANSHIP….David Broder reported yesterday, and the NYT’s Sam Roberts adds today, that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is still laying the groundwork for an independent presidential campaign, and will meet a week from today with some relatively high-profile politicians from both parties in the hopes of forming a “government of national unity.”

Those who will be at the Jan. 7 session at the University of Oklahoma say that if the likely nominees of the two parties do not pledge to “go beyond tokenism” in building an administration that seeks national consensus, they will be prepared to back Bloomberg or someone else in a third-party campaign for president.

Dems like Sam Nunn, Chuck Robb, and David Boren will be there, as will Republicans like Chuck Hagel, John Danforth, and Christine Todd Whitman. Boren, who will host the meeting at the university, apparently has a deadline in mind, telling the Times that Democrats and Republicans would have two months to “formally embrace bipartisanship and address the fundamental challenges facing the nation.”

Now, I try not to be reflexive about efforts like these. I don’t reject bipartisan proposals out of hand, and if a handful of former office holders have some constructive policy ideas, they should certainly be encouraged to be part of the public debate.

But the closer one looks at this Bloomberg group initiative, the more this looks like bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship. Worse, it’s a solution in search of a problem.

A letter from Nunn and Boren sent to those attending the Jan. 7 session said, “Today, we are a house divided. We believe that the next president must be able to call for a unity of effort by choosing the best talent available — without regard to political party — to help lead our nation.”

I suppose that’s fine, but one wonders if the group realizes that Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson have already said publicly that they would have Republicans serving in their cabinet — a claim no Republican presidential candidate has made.

Indeed, one wonders just how closely the organizers of this meeting have been following current events. Their letter insisted that “partisan polarization is preventing us from uniting to meet the challenges that we must face.” Really? Because it seems to me congressional Democrats over the last year have been negotiating with Republicans on everything from immigration to kids’ healthcare to minimum wage to Iraq to ethics reform. Some one of those measures were vetoed, some were blocked by what is literally the most obstructionist Senate minority in American history, and on still others, Democrats simply caved rather than fighting too hard. But in each instance, “partisan polarization” didn’t prevent much of anything; Republican politics did.

The entire Bloomberg endeavor, which hasn’t even considered dealing with actual policy proposals outside of vague platitudes (the group apparently wants to “rebuild and reconfigure our military forces”), sounds like a daydream of former officials who believe Democrats and Republicans can join forces, solve all of our problems, and “get something done.” Get what done? It doesn’t matter; it’ll be something.

It all sounds pleasant enough, but only in an immature kind of way. They seem to believe Americans need to get unified. Unified behind what? Behind unity.

I realize some people (David Broder, I’m looking in your direction) look at the policy differences between competing parties and ideologies as inherently petty and parochial. They’re not. These arguments are indicative of a serious disagreement about the direction of the country. It’s called politics, and it’s perfectly healthy in a democracy. (To borrow a phrase, debate over substantive ideas is a feature, not a bug.)

Be sure to read Digby’s and Chris Bowers’ take on all of this, but I wanted to highlight a point Chris raised that’s especially significant:

It would be nice, for once, if the constant drumbeat from Aging Wealthy White Men for National Unity Under Billionaire Media Moguls (AWWMNUUBM for short) decrying polarization, the lack of bi-partisanship and gridlock in Washington would actually provide specifics on what legislation their hated polarization, partisanship and gridlock is blocking. Of course, they won’t actually do that, because blaming national problems on vague, undefined concepts like “polarization” and “gridlock” is much easier than actually analyzing the contemporary political scene in America.

Chris is absolutely right. Parties and campaigns are, or at least should be, about ideas and solutions. Bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship doesn’t mean anything.