Political Animal


January 30, 2012 8:05 AM It’s “Death of Bipartisanship” Monday!

By Ed Kilgore

Presumably spurred by a Gallup analysis on Friday of partisan splits in approval ratings of recent U.S. presidents, both Politico (John Harris and Jonathan Allen) and WaPo’s The Fix (Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake) devoted top billing this morning to an effort to dash any remaining hopes of bipartisan action on the nation’s major challenges before 2013 at the earliest.

This rather banal realization is interesting primarily because it has emerged from the Beltway redoubt of those most likely to harbor the illusion that Great Big Adults in both parties ought to be able to get together and cut deals that can then be sold to the rubes around the country as representing a victory for their team.

While both articles appear to assume that Barack Obama has been the last person in DC to “get” that partisan and ideological polarization has grown to the point where decisive elections are necessary to get much of anything done, it’s the WaPo piece that follows Gallup in implying that Obama himself is responsible for hyper-polarization. Cillizza and Blake do at least cite the Gallup data showing that George W. Bush actually presided over the highest levels of polarization yet recorded (in his fourth, fifth and six years in office). Harris and Allen go a bit deeper, quoting University of Georgia political scientist Keith Poole in citing radicalization of the Republican Party as being the most important source of polarization:

“The Republican Party has been steadily moving to the right since the 1970s,” Poole said. “The Republicans have moved about three times the speed to the right as the Democrats have moved to the left.”

Neither article quite gets around to mentioning the relatively low odds for a galvanizing 2012 election that produces some sort of mandate, or the institutional barriers to governing that became so apparent when Democratic struggled to enact an agenda after their 2008 across-the-board victory.

But it is nice to see that the illusion of easy bipartisanship is now largely limited to Americans Elect supporters who somehow think partisans are preventing the American people from embracing by acclamation an agenda of wildly unpopular “entitlement reforms” and tax increases.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Danp on January 30, 2012 8:30 AM:

    The Republicans have moved about three times the speed to the right as the Democrats have moved to the left.”

    Dems have moved to the left? Where is the evidence for that? Civil rights, perhaps?

  • walt on January 30, 2012 8:31 AM:

    Moving the goalposts ever rightward, the MSM sees the folly in being even an inch left of center. That's why we need Evan Bayh to be president! Instead of preserving the safety net, we need to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the producers. They've been held back by generous SS checks going to old people! And regulations!

    The nightmare of American discourse never stops.

  • Grumpy on January 30, 2012 8:35 AM:

    If the average Dem has moved to the left, it's only because Southern conservatives have left the party.

  • stormskies on January 30, 2012 8:35 AM:

    you are so right Walt ........

    check this....

    Rep. Allen West (R-FL) continued his strong opposition towards the Democratic Party Saturday night, offering a line to his colleagues that certainly doesn’t strive for bipartisanship.

    At the Palm Beach County GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner, West voiced his stern displeasure at several top Democrats and vowed his state would not turn blue for the November elections.

    “We need to let President Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and my dear friend the chairman of the Democrat National Committee (Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz), we need to let them know that Florida ain’t on the table,” he said. “Take your message of equality of achievement, take your message of economic dependency, take your message of enslaving the entrepreneurial will and spirit of the American people somewhere else. You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America.”

    Former Reid spokesperson Jim Manley offered a fierce rebuke after getting word on West’s comments, writing on his Twitter page, “Me to allen west. You first asshole.”

  • SadOldVet on January 30, 2012 8:36 AM:

    Gotta watch my blood pressure. Ed, do us all a favor and not mention anything referring to Chris Sleezilla!

    The worms of the WaPost & especially Politico are repuke mouthpieces pretending to be moderates.

  • lou on January 30, 2012 8:39 AM:

    "Easy" bipartisanship -- revolving around war making and enriching the elites -- has gotten this country into some of its biggest messes.

    Not likely the "hard" kind will get us out of them.

  • berttheclock on January 30, 2012 8:41 AM:

    The DLC has not been to the left since 1972.

    Not that many years ago, politicos on the Hill would badger one another for hours, then, sit down together to share some Jack Daniels. Today, the RepuGs will only drink with the Democratic politicos, if the Democrats take the first sip of hemlock while the RepuG leaves the room.

  • DAY on January 30, 2012 8:43 AM:

    "The business of America is business" Silent Cal, 1925

    That business includes newspapers, radio, and TeeVee.
    And blogs; don't forget the blogs!

  • berttheclock on January 30, 2012 8:45 AM:

    It may be Monday, but, may I add an AMEN to the post of SOV?

  • golack on January 30, 2012 8:46 AM:

    The difference goes back to the differences between Tip O'Neil and Newt Gingrich as speakers. One wants gov't to work while moderating extremes, the other likes to throw tantrums.

  • SteveT on January 30, 2012 8:51 AM:

    I, for one, would like to see the Democrats get MORE partisan.

    President Obama argued in the 2010 campaign that to go forward you put your car in 'D'. To go backwards you put your car in 'R'. But what he failed to mention is that if you choose the "middle ground" you end up in 'N', with your engine revving but your car not going anywhere.

    Or maybe a better analogy would be that one party wants to put gasoline in the car's fuel tank and the other party wants to put in sugar water. Inside-the Beltway Conventional Wisdom would tell us to be "bipartisan" and put some gasoline and some sugar water in the fuel tank, and as long as there is a "political consensus" the car will run just fine. Unfortunately, in the real world, putting just a little sugar water in a car's fuel tank causes damage that is very costly to repair.

    The numbers are in. Republican policies of deficit cutting have been tried in Europe, and they're threatening to send Europe back into a recession. The same policies have been part of the "bipartisan" mix that has kept the U.S. economy wallowing in near-recession.

    Democrats need to pull up their big-girl panties, look the media squarely in the eye, and declare that Republican policies DON'T WORK and that they're not going to vote for them anymore.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on January 30, 2012 8:56 AM:

    This is why we should all hope for a (admittedly unlikely) Newt Gingrich nomination. It would certainly make the partisan lines clearer than Weather-vane Willard as well as be endlessly entertaining.

  • Elie on January 30, 2012 9:35 AM:

    SteveT --

    Knock of the female references to get across your point that Democrats are weak. I see plenty of jock straps with empty cups leading the parade -- particularly on the Republican side. Surely your vocabulary has other choices... how about it?

  • RT on January 30, 2012 9:59 AM:

    "The Republicans have moved about three times the speed to the right as the Democrats have moved to the left."

    At first glance I thought Poole had coined the expression "the speed of right" there.

  • stinger on January 30, 2012 10:02 AM:

    I think if the Democrats would get MORE liberal, using the bully pulpit and every "microphone" or outlet available to them, they'd win more elections. Voters LIKE liberal policies, when described to them and not just labeled as "Obamacare", for example.

  • Obi-jonKenobi on January 30, 2012 10:37 AM:

    One problem for the Democrats that I see repeated over and over is their breathtaking incompetence when it comes to framing issues. In this day of massive media overload, it's a very essential skill to be able to communicate effectively.

    Where, for example, have you heard ANYTHING from them about the unFREAKINGprecedented use or the filibuster by the Republicans? They doubled the previous record for use of the filibuster in this session and the record they broke was set by them in the LAST session. Not even second-tier judges and administration appointees can get by without a super-majority. Heard anything about that from the Democrats? I didn't think so.

    Another great example is the Keystone XL pipeline. While the Republicans pound away on the Democrats and Obama for being anti-business and wildly exaggerate the jobs that would be lost, nothing but silence from the Democrats. Where have you heard them point out that the world's dirtiest oil would be shipped ACROSS our country to be refined in tax-free havens in Texas to be exported to the international market? We get the shaft, foreign corporations get the gold. But, not a word of explanation from the clueless cretins that run the Democrat machine.

  • Steve M on January 30, 2012 11:22 AM:

    it’s the WaPo piece that follows Gallup in implying that Obama himself is responsible for hyper-polarization.

    Um, really? The Post piece says flatly:

    While it’s easy to look at the numbers cited above and conclude that Obama has failed at his mission of bringing the country together, a deeper dig into the numbers in the Gallup poll suggests that the idea of erasing the partisan gap is simply impossible, as political polarization is rising rapidly.

    Out of the ten most partisan years in terms of presidential job approval in Gallup data, seven — yes, seven — have come since 2004. Bush had a run between 2004 and 2007 in which the partisan disparity of his job approval was at 70 points or higher.

  • Andy Olsen on January 30, 2012 11:50 AM:

    This Poole guy must be insane.
    “The Republicans have moved about three times the speed to the right as the Democrats have moved to the left.”

    Democrats have not moved at all to the left. They have moved to the right. The "leftist" Dem Party, for example, signed off on repeal of Glass Steagal, have gone along with deficit hysteria that has keep unemployment high, and they have been foreign policy hawks.

    Not to mention the force of the DLC types (right, Ed?)

    Shout out to E Kilgore for a good job filling Benen's blogging shoes. Even with that DLC stain on his resume! :^)

  • Elie on January 30, 2012 12:42 PM:

    I concur on the shoutout to Ed... great job!

    Right, left, right -- its just beside the point. The Republicans are having a nervous breakdown. Trying to "reason" or adopt "framing" that will just "fix" that is not going to happen. They are going all in and the responsible people in the room (ie. the Democrats), better be about minimizing their damage while the Republicans break up the furniture. I am so sick of our so called "smart" liberals saying that if only the Democrats did this or did that, we wouldnt .. what?.. have to deal with mass insanity and culturewars? The Republicans WANT to fight. They set it up to get a fight. Fighting them is doing what they want. The smart, adult people in the room must claim victory differently and its a long, much less dramatic approach. Busting them over the head (rhetorically speaking), will not help -- will just further estrange the sense that government can work.

    Its definitely not easy and it certainly doesnt get the "ataboys" from the people who want to see bloody noses and loose teeth to feel that we are winning. It is, however, the responsible way to deal with reckless insurgents (yes, that is what I consider them). They have to be neutralized within the system -- not aided to destroy it by playing their same game.

  • marcelle on January 30, 2012 12:55 PM:

    good post. good point, grumpy. can you say gerrymandering?

  • HelpThe99ers on January 30, 2012 1:41 PM:

    @DanP and @Andy Olsen:

    It looks like Poole is using the DW-NOMINATE scores illustrated in the figures that accompany this blog post:

    "The Democrats have not moved nearly as much to the left as the Republicans have to the right (see Figures above), but they have contributed to polarization, in our opinion, by embracing identity politics. The Democrats can be seen as the party of African-Americans, of Latinos, of feminists, of gays and lesbians but not of white middle class males - those who defined the golden age of low household income inequality. Thus, when Fannie Mae, run at the time by Clinton's OMB director Franklin Raines, embraced Angelo Mozillo in its 2003 annual report, the emphasis was on achieving equality of home ownership rates for minorities. Voters aren't naïve. The Democrats do not win a majority of the white vote in presidential elections, and they do particularly poorly with white males. Doing something politically about inequality would require convincing people that government can be beneficial and that government will benefit the general population. The financial crisis of 2008 may have been an opportunity to move forward, but the 2010 midterm elections moved Congress sharply to the right."
  • cmdicely on January 30, 2012 1:43 PM:

    The DLC has not been to the left since 1972.

    The DLC (1985-2011) didn't exist in 1972, and doesn't exist now, and was never equivalent to the Democratic Party. It was a center-right organization within the party.

  • Doug on January 30, 2012 7:53 PM:

    Much of this quest for the unicorn of "bi-partisnaship" is based on a misunderstanding of our political history.
    There WAS a time when many pieces of legislation could be considered "bi-partisan", but that was because the political parties THEMSELVES were bi-partisan. Well, in a sense.
    They weren't a mix of Democratic and Republican politicians, but they WERE a mix of conservative/liberal ones. The result was that liberal Republicans could, and did, support liberal Democratic measures and vice versa. And they were opposed by combinations of conservative Democrats and Republicans. It was this mixture of positions INSIDE of each party without, unfortunately, any realization of what was behind said "bi-partisan" activity, that has lead too many on this futile bi-partisan quest.
    It's probably safe to say that ANY time one party becomes solidly, or nearly so, either conservative or liberal, the possibility of any bi-partisan activity rapidly fades and partisan-ship increases.
    Right now the Republican Party is, barely, controlled by financial interests that are definitely best described as conservative. Unfortunately for them however, the rank and file of the Republican Party, otherwise known as "voters", AREN'T conservatives. They're reactionaries.
    And reactionaries don't "do" bi-partisan...