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Bipartisan Partisanship -- Not An Oxymoron

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This is Lanny Davis's first weekly column, "Purple Nation," in today's Washington Times

This, my first column for The Washington Times, is perhaps my best opportunity to explain the name I selected as the name and theme -- "Purple Nation" -- and why it has relevance to the presidential contest between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain and for the future of American politics.

First, what Purple Nation -- a reference to the result of mixing "red" and "blue" state colors -- does not mean: It is not about a mushy center where flip-flopping candidates abandon core ideological principles and rush to take "centrist" positions in order to win over more the independent-minded swing voters from both parties. That is the politics of expediency and inauthenticity, and most voters will see through that quickly.

Nor is the political color purple a preference for nonpartisan or third-party politics. The premise here is that two-party partisanship -- competitive loyalties to a historically liberal Democratic Party versus a historically conservative Republican Party -- is a good thing for America because these important ideological differences in approaching our problems are in need of vigorous debate issue by issue.

In general, liberals (such as myself) believe in a strong and active government -- federal, state and local. The overall goal of liberalism is to use government to help level the playing field to increase opportunities for the middle class, the poor and the socially disadvantaged. Funding for liberal programs, therefore, depends on a progressive tax system -- and sometimes requires direct regulation and intervention in the private market and restricting individual choices.

Conservatives, most fair-minded liberals should concede, are equally concerned about increasing such opportunities for the middle class and the poor. But they see the means of getting there is not more government, which they believe usually makes matters worse through higher taxes and inefficient government bureaucracy. They prefer the "democracy" of the unfettered private marketplace, with maximum individual freedom and choice-making, as the better path to achieve social opportunity and fairness.

So who is right?

Purist and sanctimonious ideologues on the left and the right will concede nothing to the other side, assume bad faith and bad motives, demonize rather than disagree, and insist on their way or the highway. These are the voices of venom and hate that we see today in not only smear and innuendo artists on the Internet but also among too many print columnists and evening cable TV pundits in the mainstream media.

The true answer, however, is that both liberals and conservatives are partially right -- depending on the issues and the factual circumstances facing the country at any particular time.

In Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, we have two candidates- - honest, independent-minded, with high integrity and respect for each other -- who, if they mutually are determined, can get our politics back into the fact-driven solutions business, who can listen to ideas from liberals and conservatives and pick among them based on what works, not what is ideologically correct.

During the coming campaign, both can engage in an honest debate between liberal and conservative approaches, or a mixture of the two, that informs the American people about the tough choices that must be made to solve our nation's most difficult problems: for example, how to withdraw from Iraq while leaving behind a stable, democratic government; how to reignite the U.S. economy without oppressive tax increases and government regulation; how to increase international trade without chasing the lowest level of labor conditions and environmental safeguards to do so; how to achieve energy independence and lower fuel prices without discouraging energy companies from risking capital to increase supply and, especially, to invest in alternative non-CO2-based energy sources; how to create a health care system accessible to all as a basic human right without bankrupting the country and diminishing individual choice and quality; and perhaps most necessary of all, how to honestly explain to the American people that we will never be able to achieve these and other things the nation needs without paying for them out of tax revenues, rather than using credit cards and mortgaging the future of our children and our grandchildren.

With such an honest debate about real choices from our two presidential candidates in 2008, the country will be better informed and ready for the challenges that face us, no matter who wins - based on partisanship about principles and bipartisanship to find solutions.

Let the debate begin.

Lanny Davis is a prominent Washington lawyer and a political analyst for Fox News. In 2007 and 2008, he made multiple appearances on cable TV in support of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign. From 1996 to 1998, he served as special counsel to President Clinton.