Post-post-partisanship

POST-POST-PARTISANSHIP…. In the weeks leading up to Inauguration Day, and in the first month or so afterwards, President Obama not only talked a good game on bipartisanship, but actually seemed willing to engage the minority party directly. Slate‘s John Dickerson argues that the White House has effectively given up on the idea.

At a recent lunch with reporters, Budget Director Peter Orszag was asked if he could name a useful idea submitted by Republicans. He couldn’t — and didn’t even pretend he’d considered many. When House Republicans put out a budget last week, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “The party of no has become the party of no ideas.”

Gibbs probably wouldn’t have said that 40 days ago, when the White House was treating the issue of bipartisanship more carefully. But after party-line votes in the House and Senate and minimum flexibility from GOP leaders, Obama aides say that Republicans are not “acting in good faith.” Which leads them to two conclusions: One, their acts of conciliation buy them nothing in negotiations with the GOP; two, and more important, they’ve decided they’ll pay no political price for acting in a more partisan fashion.

Both of those assumptions appear entirely right. The president has reached out, repeatedly, to congressional Republicans. It hasn’t generated any concessions from the GOP; it hasn’t produced any meaningful policy recommendations; and it hasn’t tempered over-the-top Republican rhetoric.

Likewise, as the political disputes become more contentious, rank-and-file Republicans take a more antagonistic attitude towards Obama, and voters in general see the president as more of a partisan. At the same time, though, there’s no penalty for this development.

Given all of this, it would be far more troubling if the White House didn’t give up on the idea of Republicans working as credible governing partners. We’re talking about a minority party that’s been soundly rejected by voters, but more importantly, it’s also a minority party that isn’t even trying to be credible on public policy (see Republicans, alterative budget).

By any reasonable measure, Republicans just don’t have anything constructive to offer right now. By their own admission, GOP lawmakers want to mount an insurgency and consider their top goal to be driving down Democratic poll numbers.

So, why pretend? The parties disagree with one another. They want to take the country in very different directions. The majority party will offer proposals, and the minority party will criticize the proposal with varying degrees of rage.

If the White House really is done taking Republican outreach seriously, it’s about time.