Monday, November 5, 2012

All Together Now

It was a statement that seemed off the moment I saw it.

Voters call for common-sense bipartisanship,[...]”

Mainly because it seemed so clearly untrue. In fact, in the very story that the words “common-sense bipartisanship” hyperlinked to, NPR's correspondent had mentioned research about bipartisanship from one Neil Malhotra “His research,” we are told in that piece, “suggests that most voters like the idea of bipartisanship in the abstract but want their individual representatives to be uncompromisingly partisan.” This does not strike me as a “call for common-sense bipartisanship” on the part of most of the voting public. So while voters may desire bipartisan compromise in the abstract, what they don't desire are their own values and priorities being traded away in the service of coming to a grand bargain. Instead, what they desire is that member of the political opposition knuckle under. It's the epitome of “Let's compromise - do it my way.” Or, as Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock put it after winning the Republican primary: “What I’ve said about compromise, I hope to build a conservative majority so bipartisanship becomes Democrats joining Republicans to roll back the size of government, reduce the bureaucracy, and get America moving again.” Later in the interview, he continued: “Well, the fact is, you never compromise on principles [...] What has motivated many people to get out and work for us and we are at that point where one side or the other has to win this argument. One side or the other will dominate.”

If “breaking the partisan fever may require the party that loses the White House this time to decide it must moderate its message, in order to appeal not just to core supporters, but to a greater share of the electorate,” we're not likely to see it, because that “greater share of the electorate” can't turn out in closed primary elections or for caucuses, and is unlikely to go to the polls even in open primaries. So it's the party faithful (like those who elected Mourdock over the more moderate Richard Lugar) that pick who runs in general elections, and if you cross them (by, say, being a moderate who's ready, willing and able to soften your position on things) they'll term you a traitor and find someone who'll run against you. So until the voters of the party that loses the White House decide that moderation is the answer, and back up their alleged “calls” for bipartisanship and compromise with votes for people who express a willingness to engage in them, we're liable to see more partisan gridlock.

On would expect NPR, or any other serious news outlet that covers politics, to understand this. To me, it seem that this is part of the unwillingness to publicly own up to the truth about the voting public in the United States, so as not to alienate people who are motivated to work for people like Richard Mourdock, yet who want to see themselves as simply pushing “common-sense” rather than seeking to force the rest of nation to go along with them. Note that this not meant to impugn their motives in doing so. My friend Ben (as I have noted before) once told me that he doubted the convictions of anyone who was unwilling to force anyone into doing what they claimed to believe was the right thing. And as political rhetoric has taken the pandering tack that the “principles” of the audience are all that stand between the nation and complete disintegration (or divine wrath) people's understandings of the stakes have grown, and with them their willingness to impose themselves on others.

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