The Great Bipartisan Myth

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

BipartisanshipDemocrats, their media allies and some Republicans, too, love to go on television and lament the distressing decline of “bipartisanship” in Washington, D.C.

To hear them tell it, Save Jerseyans, our national capital was a utopian post-partisan dreamland until that damn tea party came along and rocked the boat in 2010.

Unfortunately, like most things you hear and see on the talking box, nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s the story of what really happened:

American politics has experienced its fair share of intense ideological conflict. The Election of 1800 and the American Civil War come to mind! It’s a lot of history for one post but, suffice it to say, even some of the absurd vitriol we’ve heard during this instant shutdown is relatively mild when measured against the full breadth of our democratic experiment.

How did we arrive at our present impasse? In 1994, after good ‘ole Bill Clinton finished bumbling his way through the front half of his first term and, ironically, failed to launch a national health care program (h/t President-in-Waiting Hilldawg), the Republican Party made history and swept to power by picking up a net of 54 seats in the November midterm elections. Huzzah!

The relevant point for our discussion is that the Republican Party hadn’t had a majority of seats in the United States House of Representatives since 1952 nor a majority of votes going all the way back to Harry Truman’s first midterm cycle in 1946. The Democrat Party’s New Deal coalition had ruled the House for 42 uninterrupted years (during which time, by the way, there were 15 government shutdowns; there have been only 3 shutdowns since 1996). When the GOP captured the Senate in 1996, they hadn’t had it since 1986.

To summarize: the Democrats enjoyed a congressional hegemony in the second half of the 20th century.

Congress naturally appears more partisan now that there’s more than one party to contend with under the Capitol Dome; we finally have a competing vision of government’s proper role in our lives after two generations of unchallenged statism from the New Deal, Fair Deal and Great Society-era politicians.

That’s bound to produce conflict.

Democrat can’t simply ignore the Party of Lincoln’s capital hill caucus like they did for half of a century. Remember that even when the GOP held the White House for a time, folks, there was never really a competing ideological narrative in Washington, D.C. prior to Ronald Reagan’s arrival in January 1981. Republicans didn’t possess sufficient votes in Congress to force a confrontation over five decades of unbridled government expansion before the 1994 Republican Revolution ended four decades of one-party control. Before the Revolution, Rush Limbaugh famously scrapped with House Minority Leader Bob Michel for failing to fight the Dems and draw a meaningful contrast for voters.

Is any of THAT sounding familiar? It should.

If an air of partisanship can be blamed on something other than the actual composition of Congress, Save Jerseyans, then please look no further than the administration of current President who, as Rep. Chris Smith very accurately put it the other day, is behaving like a petulant child.

Fred Barnes put things in perspective by way of a truly excellent article published Tuesday:

“Can anyone imagine an American president—from Lyndon Johnson to Ronald Reagan, from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton—doing this? Of course not. They didn’t see presidential leadership as optional. For them and nearly every other president, it was mandatory. It was part of the job, the biggest part.

LBJ kept in touch daily with Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader in the Senate, and never missed an opportunity to engage him in reaching agreement on civil rights, taxes, school construction and other contentious issues. Mr. Obama didn’t meet one-on-one with Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, until 18 months into his presidency and doesn’t call on him now to collaborate.”

Barack Obama isn’t simply refusing to compromise. He’s flat-out refusing to negotiate altogether, a courtesy that he’s even willing to afford a terrorist state like Iran! It’s not easy to be more of a political animal than LBJ but the community organizer-in-chief from Chicago has managed to pull it off.

Endorse or disagree with the shutdown as it pleases you; I’ve heard rational strategic arguments both for and against from well-meaning conservatives. But DO NOT whine to me about a fresh plague of partisan sentiment on Capitol Hill, Save Jerseyans.

You have to get up earlier in the morning to fool this blogger and even EARLIER to make him forget the lessons of recent history…

Matt Rooney
About Matt Rooney 7826 Articles
MATT ROONEY is's founder and editor-in-chief, a practicing New Jersey attorney, and the host of 'The Matt Rooney Show' on 1210 WPHT every Sunday evening from 7-10PM EST.

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