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The Curse of Bi-partisanship



When a wolf and a fox agree on a modus vivendi, the rabbits and woodchucks had better be on their guard.

The same is true about the March 23 agreement reached by 14 “moderate” Democratic and Republican Senators which undermined the looming confrontation between Senate Democrats and Republicans over the issue of judicial appointments and the filibuster.

Anytime you have someone like Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), a cheerleader for the War on Iraq, a stalwart backer of the worst Zionist excesses of the Israeli state, and a man who even endorsed former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s horrific Operation TIPS citizen spy scheme, lining up with Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a guy who headed up the House impeachment campaign against President Bill Clinton, a staunch conservative in moderate clothing (like his over-rated colleague John McCain) who opposes abortion rights and boasts a 5% rating from the League of Conservation Voters, progressives need to worry.

And what’s with this fear of political polarization anyhow? It’s really nothing but a media creation.

Newspaper editors and pundits love to talk about the need for “bi-partisanship” and cooperation as though such comity were an unambiguous public good. Yet it is precisely such bipartisanship that brought us the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, the North American Free Trade Act, welfare cutbacks, the Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the new anti-bankruptcy law, and which threaten to bring us a mortally weakened Social Security “reform,” and who knows? Maybe a war on Iran or Syria.

Sure, if the Democrats took a hard-line confrontational approach to the dominant Republicans in House and Senate they’d lose on a lot of things, including the appointment of judges with right-wing agendas. But by standing for principle, Democrats would be paving the way for serious election campaigns on important issues in 2006 and 2008. They’d be rallying the electorate to fight back against the Republican-led campaign to drag the country backwards to the 19th century in economic, environmental and social policy.

Instead, people like Lieberman and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) are paving the way for further electoral defeats for Democrats in the coming election cycles.

By lining up with Republicans on compromises that end up selling out principle (the filibuster agreement will result in the approval, with Democratic acquiescence, of several truly dreadful new appellate judges), Democrats confuse and demoralize their potential electoral base.

By demonstrating that Democrats are no better than Republicans-indeed no different from Republicans-they turn elections into nothing but issueless personal popularity contests, in which most citizens have little or no interest. In fact, their bipartisanship may actually be helping Republicans, because at least those so-called “moderate” Republicans like Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) or Olympia Snowe (R-ME) or John McCain (R-AZ) are showing the spine to buck their President and party leadership in reaching agreement with so-called moderate Democrats.

All the so-called moderate Democrats are showing is political cowardice and lack of principle.

The idea that this kind of Democratic sell-out would be happening when the president is being viewed by a majority of the public as inept, untrustworthy, stupid and politically out of touch, is both astonishing and depressing.

As one Republican operative told the New York Times, the only reason the opposition isn’t having a field day these days in Congress is because “the Democratic Party is brain dead.”

Bipartisanship: a morphine drip for the terminally politically doomed.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at

He can be reached at:


















Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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