Dear Big Daddy,
I’m disgusted by politicians. Do you think they’ll be able to get over their petty disagreements and get something done this year?
Dear Rodney King,
Back in my day, I was known as one of the most successful bipartisan pols around. My rise to the speakership was aided by some Republican votes. I co-authored some of my most important bills with members of the GOP.
So listen to me when I say that now is not the time for bipartisanship.
I know that’s not what people want to hear as we embark on a knock-down, drag-out triple election year where the gutter promises to get so crowded they’ll have to install a bouncer and a velvet rope. Bipartisanship is something voters say they want because they haven’t quite wrapped their minds around what it often really means — giving in, selling out, signing deals with Beelzebub (or, if you’re a Democrat, Beelzebubba).
For those working in and around the building, bipartisanship serves us well. We don’t want to hate half the people we see every day. We can’t, because we know each other as people, not concepts or statistics. Most of us want to be able to have across-the-aisle friendships — not to mention to be able to raid the other side’s dating pool, given the much-discussed lack of options in this government-and-cow town.
Which is fine. But don’t forget that disagreement is our sole reason for being here. As much as we tell friends and relatives that Sacramento “isn’t so bad,” if we didn’t work in politics, most of us would live in either far more or far less cosmopolitan environments. Both settings tend to be far more homogenous politically, so conflict is the reason you have some many opportunities for cross-party friendships in the first place.
So how could I practice bipartisanship then and preach against it now? Easy: It was a very different time. Anyone who doesn’t believe in evolution should take a look at our political parties over the decades. I was able to work with Republicans because I had different Republicans to work with. On most big issues, Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been mainstream in his party 40 years ago.
But don’t think I’m only talking about the GOP. I was an early voice warning my own party about where they were headed as far back as the 1960s. It was idiotic for us to get all tarted up for corporate dough (I was fine with the dough, just not with putting out for it). We abandoned the economic populism that had served us so well at a time when we were pursuing a confrontational social agenda. The GOP didn’t steal white working folks from us; we put them in the car of drove them over to Ronald Reagan’s house.
In my long-lost era, your party tag meant a lot less. These days, what exactly do we have to be bipartisan about? Our big issues today are not ones that lend themselves to easy compromise. Private health care and single payer are both fairly straightforward concepts — and halfway between them is something you need a Ph.D. to understand.
Our state’s Dems love to whine about everything GOP legislators do. But they conveniently forget they’re only doing what their constituents and their core values demand.
Democrats really ought to see some of these GOP stands for what they are: an opportunity of historic proportions. Your opposition is repeatedly and vehemently going on record saying that global warming is made up. Take notes — because that claim is going to stand up about as well as Schwarzenegger on skis. Our private health care system is better at the user end than what Europeans have? I wonder if that debate would go a little different if this were Chicago and dead people could vote.
Nationwide, the GOP hasn’t been whupping Dems upside their electoral heads the past couple of decades by avoiding confrontation, though our state’s Dems have also shown a taste for attack ads and blog-fights. We’re living in a golden era for political consultants — which can sometimes make it a browner, smellier era for those fielding angry constituent phone calls and writing legislator’s indignant press releases while trying to maintain friendly relations with the nice folks in the next office.
Bipartisanship? Great idea. Just save it for the bar.