Financial Regulatory Reform And The Extraction of Bipartisanship

06/19/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Over the past year, when major initiatives fail to pass or pass without a single Republican vote, your beloved Beltway media is typically all too quick to point out that the result was a Great Failure Of Bipartisanship. And then: Why hasn't President Obama and his Democratic party cohorts done more to facilitate across-the-aisle agreements? If you look at health care reform, greenlighting lengthy negotiations between Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and his Gang Of Six doesn't count. Hell, neither does actually taking the pains to ensure that Republican ideas get included! The vote goes down, and Democrats are left getting the ol' tsk-tsk for not being sufficiently accommodating.

A fine example of the pretzel logic can be seen in David Broder's mid-February requiem for the lightweight Evan Bayh. Broder says that the catalyzing event in Bayh's life -- the thing that finally made him decide to take his ball and piss off back to Indiana -- was the Senate's vote on the deficit commission. The reason the commission didn't come to pass is so ridiculously easy to discern that I'm quite sure there are goats that can do it: seven Republican cosponsors of the bill voted against it. The end.

But Broder allowed Bayh to include Democrats as the villains. "Both parties were to blame," Bayh told Broder, who went on to relate that "Twenty-three Republicans (and one independent) voted no, seven of them people who had previously co-sponsored the commission bill. So did 22 Democrats, many of them committee chairmen looking out for their own prerogatives."

At the time, I had no idea what Broder was talking about. Of the sixteen Democratic committee chairmen, ten voted for the bill. Again, the story here was that seven Republican co-sponsors straight up bailed on the measure. But that didn't fit the storyline Bayh and Broder wanted to pimp.

With that as the backstory, it makes you wonder how the media is going to capture the way financial regulatory reform has devolved into another pitched partisan battle. It wasn't always this way! As Sarabeth Guthberg reminds us:

Just early last week, the Wall Street reform bill was innocently going about its business, perfectly secure in its bipartisanality. It wasn't just bipartisan-curious, it was actually practicing a bipartisan lifestyle. It didn't just include Republican ideas, Republican senators had actively participated in drafting the bill.

And then along came Mitch McConnell last Tuesday -- after meeting privately in New York behind closed doors with unidentified members of the Wall Street elite, including hedge fund managers and bankers -- and decided that bipartisanality was an abomination, and the bill must be cured of its bipartisanality.

Slowly but surely, McConnell wore his caucus down. Key supporters like Senator Bob Corker and Senator Judd Gregg (who had previously referred to the McConnell rhetorical flourishes as "a touch over the top") joined the anti-reform crowd. Eventually, the Good And Moderate Senator Susan Collins affixed her name to McConnell's latest filibuster ransom note, and bipartisanship was over.

There can be no doubt -- none whatsoever -- that what had transpired was that one side of the debate painstakingly extracted the bipartisanship sauce from the discussion. Will they be properly hung out to dry by the media for doing so? My guess is no. After all, over the weekend, plenty of reports went out, lending credibility to McConnell's claims that the financial regulatory bill would create a state of "permanent bailout" for Wall Street to avail themselves.

It should be pointed out: every single adult who reported those claims understood full well that this particular talking point was dreamed up by GOP pollster Frank Luntz, and every single adult who knew what that meant knew full well that this meant that the "permanent bailout" talk was nothing more than a lie engineered to win elections. Nevertheless, the notion that the bill would create "permanent bailouts" instead of actually providing the means to which failed financial institutions would be wound down and dismembered (the actual truth!), was treated as just another interesting point of view.

So, yeah: I have to imagine that we'll soon be hearing from David Broder about how this is all Obama's fault, somehow. He promised things would be different!

Curing Bipartisanality []

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