A skewed perspective

A SKEWED PERSPECTIVE…. As part of last night’s coverage of the health care reform debate in the Senate, David Gergen complained about the stark partisan divide.

“In my judgment it’s a tragedy for the country to have a bill this important, a historic piece of legislation, pass with only one party voting for it.”

Gergen, naturally, blamed both parties equally. (The official rulebook handed to all centrist establishment pundits requires stiff penalties for those who neglect to hold both parties equally responsible for discouraging developments.)

Now, if reality has any relevance here, blaming Democrats for unanimous Republican opposition/obstructionism is pretty silly. Dems spent the entire year desperate — arguably too much so — to make health care reform “bipartisan.” The GOP refused, rejecting compromises, opposing measures they used to support, trashing the very idea of improving the broken system, and declaring outright opposition irrespective of Democratic concessions.

But the talk will no doubt continue, with Republicans and many media voices raising questions about the legitimacy of the reform bill, if it passes with no (or next to no) GOP support.

It’s worth remembering, then, that the political world’s perspective has been skewed because the Republican minority is so unusually small.

Traditionally, when the Senate passes bills with “bipartisan” support, it’s meant having one party reaching out to moderates from the other party to put together a reasonably good-sized majority. If the usual Senate majority has around 53 or 54 members, finding some moderates from the other side of the aisle meant passing a bill with, say, 57 or 58 votes. And if a bill had 60 supporters — three fifths of the chamber — it reflected a fairly broad base of support for the legislation.

And while filibuster abuse distorts the nature of the legislative process, the current circumstances also skew expectations — Republicans have almost entirely excised moderates from their ranks, and voters have handed Democrats a huge majority. Whereas a 60-vote majority used to reflect widespread support for a bill, we’re now told a 60-vote majority is wholly inadequate — or in Gergen’s words, a “tragedy.”

The standard has become badly distorted. It’s not the Democrats’ fault Republicans have become too conservative, failed at governing, and were punished by voters. And it’s certainly not Democrats’ fault Republicans would rather obstruct than govern, reflexively rejecting anything the majority seeks.