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D.C. Partisanship or How I Learned to Stop Being Naïve and Embrace Party Politics

August 1, 2011

As I started to think about something to post I reflected on the many lessons I have learned as an intern in the past 6 weeks. I’ve learned the intricacies of the Metro, where and when to find the best food trucks, and that THOMAS, the Library of Congress’ bill search, is wonderful. However, if I were to boil down my most important lessons it is these: first, I should be much more partisan, second, I really appreciate bipartisanship. Allow me to explain.

Before actually seeing the “sausage” made I used to operate under the theory that I should vote for the “best” candidate. I’d find the one that was closest to me on the issues, but also important were factors like experience, judgment, trustworthiness, personality, and other intangible qualities. Party preference came after all of these factors. This was naïve and mistaken. I’ve learned that, while that sounds nice and maybe one day we’ll live in a happy utopia without partisanship, at the moment all I care about is getting a Democrat in office who will vote the way I want most of the time regardless of if they are the “best” in they way I thought about it previously. This may sound jaded, but what can I say, Washington has taught me to think this way. From the moment I started working here all I’ve heard on any issue that matters to me is, “if the congress were different” or “if the chairman would only call a bring it up for a vote.” The issues I’ve wanted to focus on such as anti-bullying legislation are brought to a standstill by the Republican Controlled House of Representatives. Even if, in theory, some of the Republicans are the kinds of leaders I would have considered voting for in my old way of thinking, now I know better. For example, I’ve now seen first hand how the committee structure is incredibly skewed towards party politics. The chairs of the committees wield immense power and they are hand picked by the party leadership. Unless there is some sort of major change in the way Washington works, it is hard for me to imagine not putting party first in a national election ever again.

I can hear your reaction now, “Wow, that’s incredibly cynical. Surely partisanship hasn’t consumed you entirely?” which brings me to my second and even more surprising lesson, I’m really grateful my efforts with the College Democrats failed. On Election Day 2010 you could find me with the rest of my college dems knocking on doors to reelect a blue-dog Democrat over a Republican challenger. Today, that Republican is one of the more moderate republicans on the hill and is cosponsoring the piece of legislation on which I have been lobbying, the Safe Schools Improvement Act. It is so much more valuable to have his and a few other moderate Republicans on the bill than if he had lost had just another Democrat had signed on. Going to my larger point, it would have been better if democrats had the House, but so long as they don’t I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have Republicans like this one every time I see a staffer’s eyes light up at the mention of “bipartisan support.” I also acknowledge that standing up to party norms is a tough thing to do, and I respect this. I honestly do respect bipartisanship.

I’m so glad I came to Washington. I have learned that this is where I want to work in my future. I’ve learned how much good a single organization and a coalition of partner organizations can do. But most of all, I’ve learned the importance of partisanship. Maybe I can translate this realization into an effort to change the system, make it so those things I used to value, good judgment, leadership, experience, are really what counts; for now, my D.C. lesson is: get everyone I can to vote for Democrats.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. aptronym238 permalink
    August 3, 2011 9:46 am

    Alright, a few thoughts. It’s interesting to hear the perspective of someone who’s been there and back, and it more or less confirms what I’ve heard about the “sausage making” inside the Beltway. I wonder if there’s any significant way to dismantle the apparent need for partisanship, perhaps through populism.

    I’m curious how your realization about the need for bipartisan support meshes with your desire to unfailingly vote Democrat. By the twisted logic of Washington politics, wouldn’t it make more sense to vote for a Republican you could count on to support policies you like, should one present him or herself? As in the case of the Blue Dog who didn’t win reelection, isn’t there something to be gained from having someone on the other side of the aisle supporting the same things you do? Of course, this is mostly a thought experiment from a Washingtonian perspective. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate such a thing in practice.

    For what it’s worth, from my panoramic armchair view, “bipartisanship” looks a lot like code for “political cover”. Every time the Democrats want to pass something they know the public won’t like, they look for “bipartisan support” to spread the blame. Calls for bipartisanship only come when there are votes needed or blame to spread, just as calls for compromise nearly always translate to calls for surrender. The barest amounts of support earn the label “bipartisan”, even one or two votes, and lead the public to believe that a particular bill had far more support then it actually did. Now, I’m not sure if Republicans do the same thing, mostly because I only started following politics in the last two years. I would be willing to bet heavily that they do when they get the chance. My experience so far, however, has only been with Democrats, and that’s what I’ve seen.

    • socialistocrat permalink
      August 3, 2011 10:49 am

      You could not be more right about the current state of “bipartisanship” and what it means. I heard a speaker in Washington who said that part of his speech that he used to give had a line that was something like, “No major piece of legislation has ever been passed without bipartisan effort” because before the 2000s that was true. There used to be conservative Democrats, liberal Republicans and they were all willing to work together. Today you get one signature from the other party and call it bipartisan. One reason you may notice this more with the Dems is that there base wanted them to compromise and will throw them out if they don’t, so they have to appear to support bipartisan legislation, but your assumptions are right, both sides do this.

  2. aptronym238 permalink
    August 6, 2011 10:28 am

    The bipartisan debt deal seems to have done exactly what I feared it might do, only a lot sooner than I thought. That which cannot go on forever, doesn’t. Something has to change.

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