It’s Time to Throw that Olive Branch in the Trash

“Bipartisanship” has a warm and fuzzy sound but it is a contradiction in terms. You cannot be “bi” and “partisan” at the same time. To be partisan is to choose one side over another. In reality as in semantics, the term makes no sense. Political philosophies are based on deeply held convictions not on cerebral analysis. Trying to merge two opposing political points of view is like trying to mix oil and water.

bipartisanObviously, America’s new President is finding out how impossible “bipartisanship” is. Even though he still insists that no party has an exclusive claim to “good ideas,” he has awakened to the reality that Republican politicians have no intention of abandoning “the same policies that got us into this mess.”  (See Jack Ohman’s cartoon in the Oregonian, right.) Those failed policies have been around for decades – even centuries, and there will always be people who are deeply committed to them.

Basically, some people are selfish, and others feel (not think) that human beings should help one another. The selfish people welcome any rationalization for their selfishness. The do-gooders welcome any rationalization for compassion. In politics, those rationalizations create conflicting “policies.” But rationalizations are sophistry. They might sound plausible but probably won’t stand the test of implementation.

If you think about it, you will realize that all our plans are based on incomplete analysis. It is impossible to account for all the implications of any action. Unintended consequences pile up as the ripple effect spreads. Here’s a simple example: Governments sometimes use taxes to “level the playing field.” For instance, they might tax luxury products like yachts, wine, cognac, and so on to make the rich “give back” some of their wealth. But the effect usually is that sales of these goods and services decline, putting poor people who are engaged in producing the goods and services out of work.

The “debate” over a proposed stimulus package to rescue the American (and by extension global) economy is an exercise in frustration. There is no “common ground.” Democrats want a government that governs, one that intervenes to ensure such things as equality of economic opportunity, social justice and education for all. Eleanor Roosevelt is my idea of the quintessential Democrat.

Republicans are committed to a view of the world expressed in such cliches as “a rising tide lifts all boats,” or “I never got a job from a poor man.” The idea is that by helping a few individuals to accumulate capital, society will benefit from the economies of scale that result. The golden age of the Hapsburgs in Europe is an example of the way this philosophy works when it works well. The excesses of the French aristocracy before the Revolution is an example of the way it works when it is abused.

Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t seem to work in America. It did not work under Hoover, and despite an artfully crafted “Reagan legacy,” it did not work under Ronald Reagan. It certainly has not worked under either Bush. In any case, the Republicans have had their chance at the nation’s tiller. It’s time to try a different set of rationalizations.

In other words, President Obama should abandon his “reasonable” attempts to engage Republicans in the economic recovery plan. His best bet is to go with his gut.