Obama Is Already Achieving Bipartisanship

If his goal is truly bipartisanship, President Obama should relax. On his major policy initiatives, he's achieved it. Democrats have successfully reached across the aisle to work with Republicans to oppose initiatives such as cap-and-trade, health care reform, and now the administration's handling of terror suspects' trials. 

On health care, for example, 39 House Democrats -- or about fifteen percent of the total caucus -- voted against the reform bill (final vote: 220-215 for passage). According to a chart devised by the New York Times, 24 of these Democrats are classified as fiscally conservative "Blue Dogs." The Times points out that almost all the fourteen freshmen among this group hail from districts that were previously Republican, and thus they might feel vulnerable during the coming election cycle. This could suggest that these congressmen are acutely aware of their constituents' desires.

On the cap-and-trade energy and climate change bill, the vote for passage was another close call in the House: 219-212. Again, a significant group of Democrats -- 44 to be exact -- voted against the party line, joining their Republican colleagues in a bipartisan but failed attempt to block this legislation.

Although both of these bills passed the House, they're stalled now, in no small part because of the bipartisan opposition that led to their thin margins of victory.

In the Senate recently, bipartisanship bloomed as two prominent Democratic Senators -- Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Jim Webb of Virginia -- joined with Independent (and former Democrat) Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and fifteen Republicans to deny funding for civilian trials of 9/11 terror suspects.

The president's ability to achieve this oppositional bipartisanship goes beyond Congress. He's managed to unite the electorate as well, bringing substantial numbers of Democrats and independents to agree with Republicans -- on opposing his agenda.

In Massachusetts, Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican, won approximately 22 percent of the Democratic vote and more than 70 percent of "unaffiliated" voters, according to Rasmussen. This in a state that went overwhelmingly for President Obama in 2008 and still had his favorability above fifty percent at the time of the election. These voters are sending to Washington a Republican senator who is explicitly opposed to health care reform as it was proposed in Congress, promising to be the 41st vote against it in the Senate.

The president and those who bemoan the lack of bipartisanship would do well to study all these examples for clues on how to craft better initiatives, rather than better photo-ops, speeches, or Q&A sessions. The problem isn't that politicians and the electorate itself lack the spirit to put team loyalty aside and cooperate. The problem is that a large number of people don't like the substance of what the president is pushing. They're perfectly willing to cooperate in opposing him.

The president seems to be defining bipartisanship as a one-way street: principled opponents dropping their legitimate concerns so as to pass the president's agenda.

Instead of viewing bipartisanship through this skewed lens, the president, along with House and Senate Democratic leaders, might want to look at the cooperative spirit of opposition and ask not what bipartisanship can do for them, but what they should be doing for bipartisanship.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her latest humorous women's fiction book, My Own Personal Soap Opera (written as Libby Malin), will be released in April.
If his goal is truly bipartisanship, President Obama should relax. On his major policy initiatives, he's achieved it. Democrats have successfully reached across the aisle to work with Republicans to oppose initiatives such as cap-and-trade, health care reform, and now the administration's handling of terror suspects' trials. 

On health care, for example, 39 House Democrats -- or about fifteen percent of the total caucus -- voted against the reform bill (final vote: 220-215 for passage). According to a chart devised by the New York Times, 24 of these Democrats are classified as fiscally conservative "Blue Dogs." The Times points out that almost all the fourteen freshmen among this group hail from districts that were previously Republican, and thus they might feel vulnerable during the coming election cycle. This could suggest that these congressmen are acutely aware of their constituents' desires.

On the cap-and-trade energy and climate change bill, the vote for passage was another close call in the House: 219-212. Again, a significant group of Democrats -- 44 to be exact -- voted against the party line, joining their Republican colleagues in a bipartisan but failed attempt to block this legislation.

Although both of these bills passed the House, they're stalled now, in no small part because of the bipartisan opposition that led to their thin margins of victory.

In the Senate recently, bipartisanship bloomed as two prominent Democratic Senators -- Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Jim Webb of Virginia -- joined with Independent (and former Democrat) Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and fifteen Republicans to deny funding for civilian trials of 9/11 terror suspects.

The president's ability to achieve this oppositional bipartisanship goes beyond Congress. He's managed to unite the electorate as well, bringing substantial numbers of Democrats and independents to agree with Republicans -- on opposing his agenda.

In Massachusetts, Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican, won approximately 22 percent of the Democratic vote and more than 70 percent of "unaffiliated" voters, according to Rasmussen. This in a state that went overwhelmingly for President Obama in 2008 and still had his favorability above fifty percent at the time of the election. These voters are sending to Washington a Republican senator who is explicitly opposed to health care reform as it was proposed in Congress, promising to be the 41st vote against it in the Senate.

The president and those who bemoan the lack of bipartisanship would do well to study all these examples for clues on how to craft better initiatives, rather than better photo-ops, speeches, or Q&A sessions. The problem isn't that politicians and the electorate itself lack the spirit to put team loyalty aside and cooperate. The problem is that a large number of people don't like the substance of what the president is pushing. They're perfectly willing to cooperate in opposing him.

The president seems to be defining bipartisanship as a one-way street: principled opponents dropping their legitimate concerns so as to pass the president's agenda.

Instead of viewing bipartisanship through this skewed lens, the president, along with House and Senate Democratic leaders, might want to look at the cooperative spirit of opposition and ask not what bipartisanship can do for them, but what they should be doing for bipartisanship.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her latest humorous women's fiction book, My Own Personal Soap Opera (written as Libby Malin), will be released in April.