David Broder, please define "partisanship"

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Is there anything more predictable than a David Broder column lamenting an excess of partisanship on both sides? If so, it's a David Broder column lamenting an excess of partisanship on both sides without actually providing an example of excessive partisanship by Democrats.

Broder begins with a singularly odd complaint: that among members of Congress there is "no consensus about the accomplishments or outrages of this historic session." Why on earth would Broder expect there to be consensus among members of Congress about accomplishments and outrages? He does understand that we have multiple political parties because we don't all agree on everything, right?

Broder then attempts to explain why voters don't like Congress:

Most Republicans I have talked with say they are convinced their outnumbered legislators have done the right thing by denying virtually all their votes to Obama and using every device possible to slow down or derail his agenda.

Most of the Democrats I interviewed are just as certain that the folks in the White House and the House speaker's office were justified in pushing the health-care bill to final passage in the face of polls showing that most voters were opposed.

But the partisanship on both sides was a turnoff to independents.

Notice that what Broder describes the Democrats doing -- passing health care reform despite (some) polling suggesting it was unpopular -- isn't actually "partisanship." Depending on your point of view, it might be called "leadership" or "defying the will of the people" -- but it isn't "partisanship." Broder continues:

They were the people who had taken Obama seriously when he said he wanted to move Washington beyond the recriminations of the George W. Bush years. Regardless of their views on health care -- or the economy or education or anything else -- they are turned off by the inability of both parties to overcome their parochial concerns and agree on steps to curb the joblessness and debt that are consuming the country.

But Broder offers no example of Democratic inability to "overcome their parochial concerns" in order to get things done. Indeed, Democrats have repeatedly incorporated Republican-friendly ideas into their initiatives. Last year's stimulus package, for example, was smaller and more tax-cut-laden than many economists thought it should be, in a largely-unsuccessful effort to woo Republicans. And the health care package contained many ideas Republicans had previously supported before deciding to oppose anything and everything President Obama wanted to do, just because he wanted to do it.

And that is, in fact, what the Republicans decided to do. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has admitted as much. That is partisanship. Democrats passing legislation despite a lack of Republican support even after Democrats incorporated their ideas -- that is not partisanship.

Maybe that's why Broder didn't actually explain specifically what each party has done that constitutes an excess of "partisanship" -- if he did, it would be quite obvious that he's drawing a false equivalence and setting up a scenario in which the only way Democrats can avoid criticism for being partisan is by capitulating completely to Republicans.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
The Washington Post
David Broder
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