11/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obsessive Compulsive Bipartisanship Disease

In the blogosphere, we've often discussed Washington's sick fetishization of bipartisanship. Whether it's pundits or politicians, the entire D.C. Establishment has made abundantly clear that it is first and foremost interested in bipartisanship for bipartisanship's sake before it is interested in the ramifications of public policy. The logic (or, really, illogic) of this fetishization essentially posits that anything that can pass with bipartisan votes in Congress is good, and anything that can only pass with Democratic votes must be bad.*

There are numerous examples of this fetishization -- but none have been as blatant as what we see today from Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson (D). I would argue that the behavior exhibited in this New York Times article goes beyond fetishization and to Obsessive Compulsive Bipartisanship (OCB):

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, typically one of the hardest votes for Democratic leaders to corral, is looming as a particularly tough sell [on health care]. "At the end of the day, I want to see everything before I commit to anything," said Mr. Nelson, who added that he would have trouble backing a bill that did not have some Republican support. (emphasis added)

This is stunning, really. It's one thing for a legislator to talk in platitudes about pursuing policies that could create bipartisanship. It's quite another thing for a legislator to openly say his vote will be explicitly contingent on the votes of the other party irrespective of the policy he's voting on. The latter takes bipartisanship from a mere fetish to an obsessive compulsive fixation, as if the legislator was elected not to judge policy, write legislation or represent constituents, but to only hand out his vote if the other party hands out theirs.

Based on this logic, a bill could meet every single one of Nelson's substantive policy demands, but if all Republicans in the Senate said they were going to vote against it, Nelson would probably vote against it (or, at minimum, he is saying "he would have trouble backing" it). That's beyond extreme -- it's into the realm of what was formerly taboo.

Remember, politicians of both parties always get criticized for being a "rubber stamp" for their parties, and always made sure to justify their legislative moves with substance, so as to prove their deliberative independence. Indeed, even Republican lawmakers have been loathe to say they might vote against bills just because the rest of their caucus was going to. But not Nelson -- he's a Democrat effectively saying he's may take orders from the GOP conference regardless of what's actually in the bill.

For Democrats, OCB (as opposed to run-of-the-mill bipartisan fetishization) assumes as concrete fact that if there is any GOP support for a bill, it supposedly means the national Republican Party will not attack those voting for that bill during their reelection campaigns. That's an absurd and silly delusion, of course. But it at least explains why someone like Nelson -- electorally afraid of Republicans in GOP-leaning Nebraska -- would be the first to show signs of acute OCB. The question is whether anyone can talk any sense into him. My guess is no -- someone showing such symptoms of such an acute affliction is probably beyond cure.

* Interestingly, this bipartisan standard never applied to stuff passed with only Republican votes - that was deemed perfectly fine by the same Establishment that fetishizes bipartisanship today.