Washington gridlock can be annoying, but that doesn’t mean bipartisan consensus produced outcomes that are necessarily more popular.
Kevin Drum made a great observation yesterday about the mammoth spending bill that the House of Representatives passed last night. The bill was filled with all sorts deals and special interest give away which made some commentators mad, but honestly that’s to be expected. Folks in the political media love to talk about how great “bipartisanship” politics is, but the outcomes that bipartisan agreements produce aren’t perfect either, or as Drum put it:
For all the interminable whining we do about the death of bipartisanship in Washington, this is what bipartisanship looks like. It always has. It’s messy, it’s ugly, and it’s petty. Little favors get inserted into bills to win votes. Other favors get inserted as payback for the initial favors. Special interests get stroked. Party whips get a workout.
That’s politics. The fact that it’s happening right now is, in a weird sense, actually good news. It means that, for a few days at least, politics is working normally again.
I understand that this sounds very Slatepitchy. But it’s true. Even at its best, politics is lubricated by venality, ego, and mutual backscratching. And you know what? By the normal standards of this kind of stuff, the obnoxious riders in the current spending bill are pretty mild.
That’s exactly right. The fact that shady things that got crammed into the bill, often times at the last minute, is pretty typical of how bipartisan cooperation on giant bills like this work. After all my principled stand to “do the right thing” might be your outrageous offense that “goes to far.” Unless we are willing to do things like make shady deals where you get some of what you want and I get some of what I want, we’ll have gridlock, and that has its problems too.
To put it another way: even abolishing 250 years of chattel slavery involved all sorts of back room deal making.
There’s a third alternative to bipartisan deal making and the gridlock that plagued Washington since 2011 of course. We saw it in 2009 and 2010 when the Democrats basically just did what they wanted because they had unified control of government. That was great if you were a Democrat, but you probably didn’t like it if you weren’t.
All three models of how Washington works (or doesn’t) have their pros and cons, but there really isn’t any alternative having to pick one of these three.
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