Obama has pledged to promote bipartisanship.
But that may require a far deeper change than even he can promise.
On MSNBC, Chris Matthews says something about helping the President. It’s a sweet thing to say. Of course, he’s lambasted by a guest journalist from Time and Joe Scarborough who both cite Walter Cronkite to effect that “I must be skeptical so the people do not become cynical.” But the authentically interesting Scarborough isn’t skeptical about what matters most: his own motivations and the motivations of his employer. Cable news is prurient and partisan so that it might spike its ratings. When Haley Barbour wants to talk about a power plant that actually captures carbon, when he wants to talk about a solution that might actually help someone, Andrea Mitchell can’t contain her impatience, her boredom, her “Obama won student council but do you think he like totally might ask Hillary to head the dance committee” fecklessness. Olbermann announces yet again the three worst people in the world. Maybe the worst person in the world is the person who becomes a millionaire by teaching Americans to hate each other. In this respect, he is no different from Limbaugh.
Partisanship is a business model. And partisanship is in me: it’s a gang membership, an affirmation, an endorphin, a vice that feels like a virtue. I am smarter than you; I am more decent than you; I am more sophisticated than you; I am the real America and you are not.
Partisanship is pleasurable and distracting. I’ve had some experience with things that are pleasurable and distracting. They’re not that easy to give up.
My friend Maury shared a link to a Salon essay which pointed out that the last eight years have been hugely bipartisan in that almost all the important measures passed by Bush have received numerous Democratic votes and little serious opposition. That’s true, and an incredibly useful fact to point out. But I think when Americans say they want bipartisanship, they mean something else.
When we say “bipartisanship” I think we mean a consensus which values the opinions of the minority, which is not achieved by bullying and slander, which does not indulge in the dubious pleasures of self-righteousness, which aligns actions and opinions, which doesn’t abuse the trust we place in a President in war time, which seeks solutions not just victory, which claims no privileged access to God’s will, which doesn’t relentlessly judge purity, which is shaped by gratefulness and humility, which values facts and experience, which is not tazared with charges of flip-flopping and is thus free to evolve its thinking and adapt its solutions.