03/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bipartisanship (is) for Dummies

You hear a lot of talk these days about the necessity of bipartisanship. But Democrats and Republicans in Congress can't seem to agree on the meaning of the word. For Democrats, it apparently means compromising on everything and watering legislation down until a few Republicans are willing to vote for it. For most Republicans it means finding unity in opposition, threatening to filibuster, constantly contradicting yourself and generally being assholes. For Judd Gregg it means doing a highly partisan back room deal on Monday afternoon and denouncing bipartisanship Tuesday morning.

Paul Krugman is absolutely right:

Obama may be able to get a few Republican Senators to go along with his plan; or he can get a lot of Republican votes by, in effect, becoming a Republican. There is no middle ground.

That isn't the change we were promised.

Stirling Newberry notes:

For all of the pandering, the "moderates on both sides" are now getting ready to gut the budget, and prove that the only thing the[y] believe in is a failed ideology of "supply side economics." Cut taxes, raise defense spending, screw the poor. The budget will magically balance itself.

That isn't the change we were promised.

Markos Moulitsas observes:

During the Bush years, the best interests of our country took a back seat to the GOP's failed ideology. Right now, it looks like the best interests of our country are taking a back seat to the failed ideology of "bipartisanship".

That isn't the change we were promised.

Despite all of this, Democrats and the political press remain enamored with this elusive concept of bipartisanship. Here are some examples from the past few days:

President Obama, on 2.3.09:

With the stakes this high, we cannot afford to get trapped in the same old partisan gridlock.

Harry Reid:

"There are efforts being made at this time on a bipartisan basis to take certain things out of the bill," Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., acknowledged. Democrats could also be open to incorporating Republican ideas...

Dick Durbin, on 2.3.09:

Democratic leaders conceded they may soon be obliged to cut billions of dollars from the measure. "It goes without saying if it's going to pass in the Senate, it has to be bipartisan," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democratic leader.

The fact is, you don't need much in the way of bipartisanship to pass a bill. 60 is 60 no matter how you put it together. Obama's apparent desire to get 80 votes in the Senate was clearly way off base.

Let's drop futile attempts to appease those who caused our problems in the first place, and stay focused on cleaning up the mess they left.

What is needed now is genuine political courage, not bipartisanship for the sake of political cover. If Republicans in the Senate really want to filibuster this vitally necessary stimulus package: Obama should call them on their bluff. They have made it perfectly clear that they have no intention of voting for anything other than tax cuts, so why involve them in the process?

If we are going to get any of the transformational "change" we were promised throughout the campaign, President Obama is going to have to take the gloves off at some point. With the economy cratering and seemingly getting worse daily, now might be a good time to do so. This idea that we can turn this economy around by caving to the feckless demands of those who screwed it up in the first place is utterly bankrupt.

Finally, after a week of disappointments, President Obama has taken a step in the right direction, at least rhetorically. In an Op-Ed in today's Washington Post, the president writes:

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We've seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.

Every day, our economy gets sicker -- and the time for a remedy that puts Americans back to work, jump-starts our economy and invests in lasting growth is now.

The true test will come in conference committee next week, where I'm hearing the White House plans to have a disproportionate role in shaping the final version of the recovery package. It is time for President Obama to reject the idea that tax cuts will save the economy in practice, rather than just in theory.