The special bipartisanship that existed in the immediate aftermath of September 11th is officially over. Many in the media are mourning the loss of their coveted ideal: neutered politicians who engage in group hugs and sing God Bless America.
Not to sound jaded or cynical, but the political process has never worked that way, and shouldn’t ever work that way in a democratically-elected government. Politics is bloodsport, but what’s so wrong with that?
The media elite are whining that two Congressional bills intended to help us post-9/11 are enmeshed in partisan gridlock. One is the economic stimulus package, and the other relates to airport screeners. Despite being promoted as necessary reactions to the terrorist attacks, both bills are tied up in the rigmarole of beltway politics.
Republicans object to nationalizing 28,000 airport screeners, pointing to socialized European nations that actually have a regulated, but privatized system in their airports. Democrats are savagely attacking Republicans as unconcerned about terrorism and pandering to the airlines, as if Republicans wouldn’t mind flying on a hijacked jet. It’s silly to say that Republicans fighting for principle—and a safer security system—on this bill are trying to make it easier for terrorists to hijack a plane.
The simple fact is that conservatives fundamentally believe that government cannot handle critical functions as capably as private companies and individuals. Liberals, on the other hand, don’t trust the private sector farther than they can throw it. Maybe the best answer is somewhere in between: tightly regulated private companies who have to meet strict minimum standards for airport screeners, which is exactly the version that was just passed by the House of Representatives.
On the other major piece of legislation, Democrats are dragging their feet on the economic stimulus package. Liberals are crying foul about the rich getting richer, and so on. Despite the fact that Congress has already shelled out more than $40 billion in immediate spending, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) and company are adamant that any stimulus package focus on more government largesse, and has little stomach for accepting even a moderate tax cut package.
Although some critics contend that Democrats just don’t care about the economy, that’s likely not the case. Liberals wholeheartedly believe that government is the solution, especially for an ailing economy heading into a new kind of war. But even more importantly, the left has an irrational fear of “the rich” benefiting as the result of any tax cut. They repel from the mere thought of it like a vampire from holy water. Never mind that when “the rich” get back money, they invest it, which in turn increases production so people have more stuff to buy and use.
While we must not sing the praises of ad hominem attacks and personal slander, we must also not ignore the virtue of spirited debate and contentious deliberation. Lest anyone has failed to notice, there are two distinct world views in the political spectrum: one that believes in the power of the individual and free markets, and one that worships at the altar of government and distrusts markets.
Basic ideologies regarding individuals, markets, and governments provide the intellectual foundation of both Republicans and Democrats. And there’s nothing wrong with that. What nervous Nellies mistake for gridlock is often good, old-fashioned policy disagreement. Out of that gridlock comes improvement to many bad bills, and sometimes watering down of good bills. In other words, neither side gets a complete victory, and compromise, however modest, wins in the end.
Can either party rightly say that the other is against protecting airplane passengers or helping the economy? Of course not. But both parties ought to duke it out over the merits of their respective bills.
When there was bipartisanship in the Senate with the anti-terrorism bill, the results were calamitous. Provisions were included, by unanimous votes, that were nakedly unconstitutional and an affront to American ideals. But the ultimate end result of bipartisanship is the majority party getting its way once they have the votes locked up to pass the version they want. The opposition has to lay down on the train tracks and smile for the cameras.
The House of Representatives, (with Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) carrying the ACLU’s water, oddly enough) was able to strip the anti-terrorism bill of its worst elements and added a 5-year sunset provision. While not perfect, Americans are much better off because the lower chamber didn’t yield to the media’s clamoring for “bipartisanship.” Thank goodness gridlock as we knew it is back.