Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bipartisanship should be an effect, not a cause

Matt Yglesias got me thinking about this fascination with "bipartisanship".

Apparently, Congress and pundits favor "bipartisan" legislation, that is, bills you can get members of both parties to sign on to. Rhetorically I ask, but why? Surely we can all dispense with the naïve notion that the best solution, or the one most desired by the people, lies at the mean between the party positions. There are at least three reasons off the top of my head proving the preposterousness of that notion, and you can probably come up with more than me.

Really, bipartisanship is supposed to be a reflection of the value of a bill. The bill's not good because it's bipartisan; rather, the bill's inherently good, so good that people want to publicly support it, even if it's not what their party came up with. A bill might be bipartisan because a priori it's good.

Lack of bipartisanship is generally framed as a negative for the bill's originator: "Obama has failed to deliver on the promise of bipartisanship for his agenda." But there's a perfectly good converse view. If a bill's good, or popular -- the health care public option, for example -- opponents of the bill would be right to fear the lack of bipartisanship. If they're too dumb or stubborn to back what's good, then they're useless to their constituents.

An agenda setter should put good legislation out there, with no compromises solely to garner support from across the aisle. If it's good enough, and popular enough, then all the Congresscritters in vulnerable seats are under pressure to back it. Bipartisanship is an indicator that the bill was good in the first place; but it is only a correlated side-effect, not a necessary (or sufficient) condition for good legislation.

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