the Bi-Partisan

Ronald Brownstein has a new book out, released to some acclaim for the consensus beltway insiders, which extolls the virtues of that which we call the “Bi-Partisanship” and rips that which we call “Partisan”. Apparently it includes a good historical overview that traces the cycles of The Party Line, and when and where it strengthened and weakened. Interestingly enough, the time I heard in an interview where the lines were drawn as tightly as they are now was the Wilson Administration — which, in terms of our historical bulletpoint overview we bump along with his Republican predecessors into the “Progressive Era” — or, at least up to The Great War and the public’s reactions to cries for “Normalcy”.

But, if we must. A great era of Bi-Partisanship preceeded the “Progressive Era”. As described in Walter Karp’s “Indispensable Enemies”, the New York State legislature for a time in the 1890s would roll out a batch of bills designed to punish particular industries. These bills would be tabled when the correct amount of money exchanged hands to each party’s political bosses. And so we had… the Great Era of Bi-Partisanship that was… The Gilded Age.

Actually I might have botched that one, but the gist is correct. I do not know if Brownstein swerves into those years. I do know, through scanning some reviews and hearing an interview (I think by Thom Hartmann, but I’m not sure) that he describes our current situation as having come out of a “Great Sorting Out” which occured more or less from out of the 1960s, which aligned the two parties into more or less one liberal party and one conservative one. No more cleavage of Conservative (Southern) Democrats and Liberal(Northeastern, more or less) Republicans. This, I suppose, would line up the Great Era of Bi-Partisanship back to the 1950s, where the Bi-Partisan “Conservative Caucus” held sway. This more or less originated from Republican desperation following the 1936 election, as well as Roosevelt’s more or less stated desire to re-align the two parties as such. The defacto birth, though undoubtedly with any number of antecedents, with the battle to thwart Roosevelt’s Court Packing Plan. (A mixed victory for Roosevelt, but that’s another story — an uncomfortable lesson of realpolitick for us all.)

It’s not the whole story, but the “Sorting Out” would come in earnest starting perhaps with Strom Thurmond quitting the Democratic Party and joining the Republican Party in 1964. (Angry at the Democratic Party as early as 1948 when he ran against Truman because of the party’s Civil Rights plank.) That this great epoch of Bi-Partisanship is thus borne out of the pangs of keeping alive White Supremacy and Segregation does not speak well of Bi-Partisanship, though I guess you can say that that other side of that coin too was bi-partisan — a victory for the stalemating on a real act of Political Progress.

More of the story comes with, for example, the 8 to 4 Democratic to Republican House Committee Labor during, for example, the 1959 – 1960 Congress — as JFK was trying to ramp up his election — being a defacto 6 to 6 roadblock. Which makes this sort of “Bi-Partisan” ideal in the eye of the beholder. The same working with some of the great bi-partisan mechinitions Brownstein described, as with his description and comparison between Harry Truman working with a Thomas Dewey advisor to get the UN and related alliances in place versus Woodrow Wilson’s stubbornness which thwarted the League of Nations. All good and well, but as the Cold War developed so did that great bi-partisan consensus, and so Vietnam was that great Bi-Partisan project, and so we had that spectacle of Eisenhower somewhat impotently deride a “Military Industrial Complex” in passing from central stage, security being that issue which makes the Patriot Act a near unanimous, by definition bi-partisan, deal and which passes the Iraq War Resolution with all of one party and half the other party.

I do not understand why we ought worship at the feet of “Bi-Partisanship”. It’s… required and a good thing, and it’s somewhat unhealthy to lead a silly partisan life. But to oppose “Partisanship” is to want that great “Smoothing Over”. Our author is aggrieved by the sight of “penalties” being meted out to those who fail to stem a party line, which I suppose runs to the gamut of our dear friend Joseph Lieberman. You will excuse me if I suggest I’d rather he not be in power — what the heck am I supposed to say?

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