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July 31, 2007

Can Anne-Marie Slaughter and Daily Kos Both Be Right?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Slaughter had a WaPo piece on Saturday calling for foreign policy bipartisanship and claiming that the real divide in American politics is now between partisans and nonpartisans.  After bemoaning the tendencies of the left-wing blogosphere to attack Democrats, she gives her solution:

It's time, then, for a bipartisan backlash. Politicians who think we need bargaining to fix the crises we face should appear side by side with a friend from the other party -- the consistent policy of the admirably bipartisan co-chairmen of the 9/11 commission, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton. Candidates who accept that the winner of the 2008 election is going to need a lot of friends across the aisle -- not least to get out of Iraq -- should make a point of finding something to praise in the other party's platform. And as for the rest of us, the consumers of a steady diet of political vitriol, every time we read a partisan attack, we should shoot -- or at least spam -- the messenger.

Over at DailyKos, Booman23  gives this response:

In these circumstances, moderation is not a virtue.  A moderate response is indistinguishable from apathy.   

And for Slaughter to shoot the messenger in the name of apathy is a case study in why the blogosphere reacts to bipartisanship with fury.

We are patriots that are trying to save our country.  Ms. Slaughter appears to be just one more deluded member of the establishment that thinks all can be put right if we just tinker around the edges and get Bush to accept the wisdom of James Baker and Lee Hamilton.   

First, Bush is not going to accept the wisdom of Baker and Hamilton.  Second, their wisdom is grossly overrated and wholly inadequate to the challenges we face.

Can both be right?

I actually think so.  Booman has one fundamental point which I'll frame this way:  bipartisanship is not an end in itself.  It's a method of getting reasonable policy choices adopted and supported by a large enough proportion of the population that they can actually work.  It's often unavoidable in a democracy, and even desirable into order to promote consistency and social cohesion.  But it's not workable where there's no one with whom to be bipartisan, and it's not workable when there's not an actual commitment on both sides to the policies proposed.

FISA, as the swirl of accusations around the mendacious Alberto Gonzales reminds us, is one area where there's just not -- as we say in another foreign policy context -- a credible partner.  Iraq is an area where there might be one eventually -- when Republicans make up their minds that they'll have to support proposals that change Bush policies, instead of just criticizing from the sidelines -- but sadly there isn't one now.

And that leads me to what Slaughter gets right.  Eventually, the people who are elected to office are going to have to work across party lines to fashion new policies for Iraq, anti-terrorism, global warming, etc.  (If you've seen polling that suggests Democrats -- the left end of the party at that -- getting veto-proof majorities in both houses in '08, send it along.  But I'm not holding my breath.)  That means the policy professionals have to retain some minimum levels of respect and listening skills for each other.  That doesn't mean we have to like each other.  It doesn't mean that what John Negroponte oversaw in Central America in the 1980s is now ok, for example.  But it does mean we need to evaluate his policy proposals -- or anyone else's -- on their merits.

Not everybody has to maintain minimum levels of respect and courtesy.  That's the joy of the blogosphere.  There's a vital place in American political discourse for the unbound truthteller, the glorious rant, the savage, scathing partisan.  And there's a place for people who love the grey amid the black and white, the nagging details, who prefer to be up to their elbows in the guts of compromise that actually is policy-making on every issue -- because compromising, like ranting, is human nature.

The openness of new media and the blogosphere -- plus the depth of national anger over this misbegotten war -- is mixing up the two spheres in ways that are sometimees productive and sometimes not.  Policy professionals need to grow thick skins fast -- and maybe get used to listening to what the non-experts have to say.  Opinionators, for their part, could use a more visceral sense of how much harder making policy is than writing about it. 

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Comments

Your credible partner line is brilliant. I think I'll steal it for use in conversations (with proper credit if I put it in writing or such).

Thanks and go for it, Greg. As we say in the speechwriting business, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...

Compromise with evil? There's been too much of that sort of 'bipartisanship', which is why America is spiraling downward in every sphere. Kerry and Bush were almost mirror images in 2004--is that what Slaughter is advocating in 2008? In any case it looks like it might happen, unfortunately. And if so, neither of them will be 'credible partners' to a large portion of the electorate.

Well put, Heather. (I prefer the "shades of purple" metaphor to the shades of grey, though: shades of grey always makes me think of tired, sunlight-deprived Brits). Sometimes great solutions can emerge fleetingly from the most heated arguments--but it's much easier to feel comfortable with one's rightness than it is to notice them.

Don: "Compromise with evil? There's been too much of that sort of 'bipartisanship', which is why America is spiraling downward in every sphere."--This sentence of course could have been written by a neocon. Maybe we should organize a "No Compromising with Evil" rally: that would bring red and blue states together, now, wouldn't it? ;)

Haven't the last six years demonstrated that you can govern without bipartisanship? And given what the Republicans have wrought, wouldn't cutting them out of the loop for a while be a really healthy thing for America's security and standing in the world?

Not sure why you refer to "veto-proof majorities in both houses." If a Democrat wins the presidency, a mere majority in the House is sufficient, and with, say, 55 or 56 Democratic Senators (a very reasonable prediction given the number of retiring or vulnerable Republicans in '08) just a handful of Republicans -- Specter, Snowe, Lugar -- are sufficient to overcome a filibuster. On certain matters, such as budget bills, 50 votes are sufficient in the Senate.

Just a reminder, in the "credible partner" department...

Grover Norquist: "Bipartisanship is just another name for date rape."

Just a reminder, in the "credible partner" department...

Grover Norquist: "Bipartisanship is just another name for date rape."

Just a reminder, in the "credible partner" department...

Grover Norquist: "Bipartisanship is just another name for date rape."

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