Americans have a soft spot for certain narratives – the Horatio Alger luck-pluck-diligence success stories, small children with terminal illnesses, and, in politics, bipartisanship. Isn't it great when everyone joins hands and gets along? Aren't there some issues on which we are all united in the national interest, the usual partisan bickering and dilatory points-of-order temporarily cast aside?
Certain politicians attempt to use the public's soft spot for reaching across the aisle to their electoral advantage. Two such politicians ran for president in 2008. One of them lost. The other won and is well on his way to proving exactly why I refused to get even momentarily excited about him as a candidate. One of the big reasons I declined to vote in the very competitive primary was a nagging feeling that both paths led to four or eight years of "centrist" New Democrat horseshit. The President-elect gives every indication of assuming the post-Civil Rights era Democratic Party's accustomed role as the battered wife of American politics, assiduously sucking up to their abusive partner in the vain hope that someday the kindness will be repaid. Woefully premature FDR comparisons and messianic zeal among Obama's faithful will quickly turn to disillusionment as the figure they elected starts to look a lot more like Harry Reid than FDR.
As a governing strategy, bipartisanship is for stupids. Post-Gingrich Republicans in Congress have only one goal upon waking each morning: find out what the majority Democrats want to do and say no. Say no procedurally, publicly, and with their votes. Delay, obstruct, distract. Obama's presidency will be no different than Clinton's, which is to say it will be one phony "scandal" after another cooked up by the minority party and dutifully dispersed via the talk radio airwaves. And yet time and time again the Democrats allow themselves to be victimized, and in fact encourage it, by "reaching out" in a show of solidarity to keep the GOP in the loop.
As the minority, the Democrats rolled over for every single major decision of the Bush administration (Authorization for the use of force in Iraq, the Patriot Act, Telecom immunity, Alito, Roberts) while offering nothing beyond token opposition. Think the minority Republicans in Congress will be returning the favor in the next few years, supplicating themselves and getting in line behind President Obama? Yeah, me neither. Think the baffling decision to leave the Department of Defense to a Bush stay-behind soldier and the State Department to Hillary "Remember how my husband's schizophrenic foreign policy of interventionism with zero resolve was a recipe for disaster" Clinton will pay off? Yeah, me neither. Think he's going to win over the lunatic Christian fringe by reaching out to Rick Warren and his kind? Yeah, me neither. Think the Cheney-endorsed national security team is going to produce meaningful Change? Yeah, me neither.
Touched by the let's-all-get-along attitude from the incoming President, Congressional Republicans are reminding the backbenchers that "the duty of the opposition party is to oppose." Translation: sharpen the talons. Get ready to block appointments and scuttle the ship. Run the government even further into the ground so that the GOP may arise in 2010 and 2012 to say "See? Look how much worse things are…"
In the end Obama, like the party he represents, will attempt bipartisan governing for the same reasons as always: because it's the "right thing to do" and to "change the tone in Washington." It is the right thing to do, of course. But like so many other examples from our lives, in politics doing the right thing correlates strongly with getting torn apart by the amoral throat-cutters on the lookout for honest people of whom to take advantage.