The “Bipartisanship” Canard

by Will on September 30, 2010

Pundits and private citizens alike spend too much time paying tribute to the fetish of bipartisanship: if people from both parties will agree to do something, it must be good, right?

I think this is crap. Concerns about procedural questions are phony concerns. All of us basically care about outcomes, not process.

Suppose I tell you that in 1944, the Labour Party in the UK won a landslide electoral victory. They had run on the platform that because the little guy had made every sacrifice to defeat the Nazis, the little guy was entitled to a share of the nation’s wealth. The Party took power and made sweeping changes: the NHS offered free medical care to everyone, a number of industries were nationalized, very high marginal taxes were put on large incomes and inheritances, and the unelected House of Lords was stripped of all real power.

Now maybe you hear that and think: “Socialism! Humbug.” Would you feel any differently if I assured you that some Tories also supported these policies?

Maybe you hear that and think: “Sounds like some good policies and some questionable ones, but overall a win for the English.” Would you change your opinion if I told you that the Labor Party pushed through these sweeping changes on party-line votes, without any support from Tory MPs?

Is there anybody out there who’s serenely at ease with both of the wars abroad, on the grounds that they were approved by bipartisan votes in both houses of congress?

The bottom line: if being “bipartisan” produces good policy, pursue it. But if bipartisanship produces bad policy, where party-line votes would produce good policy, go with the party-line votes. The average person doesn’t watch CNN and doesn’t really care about anything but results.

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