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Can’t We All Just Get Along? No

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Posted on Mar 1, 2010

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

The word partisanship is typically accompanied by the word mindless. That’s not simply insulting to partisans; it’s also untrue.

If we learn nothing else in 2010, can we please finally acknowledge that our partisan divisions are about authentic principles that lead to very different approaches to governing?

Last week’s health care summit was a daylong seminar that should make it impossible for anyone to pretend otherwise. But before we get to that, let’s examine the Senate debate over whether to extend unemployment insurance coverage. The matter is rather urgent for jobless workers because 1.1 million of them are scheduled to lose their benefits this month, and 2.7 million are slated to lose them by April.

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., has put a hold on the extension bill, but one of the key reasons the measure is blocked is the effort of Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to use it as a way of forcing a cut in the estate tax. Kyl is essentially leveraging the unemployed to get a deal on estate tax relief that would cost $138 billion over the next decade, according to estimates by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The estate tax has already been cut sharply, so the reduction Kyl is pushing along with Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., would affect the estates of fewer than three out of every 1,000 people who die, according to the Tax Policy Center.

The proposal helps estates worth more than $7 million in the case of couples. I guess struggling millionaires deserve the same empathy we feel for those without a job.

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And notice this: Especially in the Senate, what passes for “bipartisanship” too often involves a Democrat such as Lincoln allying with a Republican on behalf of the wealthiest interests in the country. And we’re supposed to cheer this?

At the summit, the most revealing exchange was between President Barack Obama and Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who is also a physician. Barrasso’s central concern is that the health care system doesn’t operate enough like every other market. He seemed troubled less by the many Americans who lack health insurance than by those who abuse the insurance they already have.

Addressing Obama, Barrasso suggested that we might be better off if people were insured only for catastrophic care. “Mr. President, when you say [people] with catastrophic plans, they don’t go for care until later, I say sometimes the people with catastrophic plans are the people that are [the] best consumers of health care in ... the way they use their health care dollars.” 

“A lot of people” with insurance, he added, “come in and say, my knee hurts, maybe I should get an MRI, they say, and then they say, will my insurance cover it? That’s the first question. And if I say yes, then they say, OK, let’s do it. If I say no, then they say, well, what will it ... cost? And what’s it [going to] cost ought to be the first question. And that’s why sometimes people with ... catastrophic health plans ask the best questions, shop around, are the best consumers of health care.”

Obama played the old TV character Columbo, who thrived on posing seemingly naive questions: “I just am curious. Would you be satisfied if every member of Congress just had catastrophic care? Do you think we’d be better health care purchasers?”

Barrasso answered in the affirmative, though he didn’t propose that senators dump their present coverage. Obama came right back: “Would you feel the same way if you were making $40,000 ... because that’s the reality for a lot of folks. ... They don’t fly into [the] Mayo [Clinic] and suddenly decide they’re going to spend a couple million dollars on the absolute, best health care. They’re folks who are left out.”

Obama concluded: “We can debate whether or not we can afford to help them, but we shouldn’t pretend somehow that they don’t need help.”

As neatly as anything I have seen, this exchange captured the philosophical and emotional difference between the two parties.

The point is not that Republicans are heartless and Democrats are compassionate. It’s that Democrats on the whole believe in using government to correct the inequities and inefficiencies the market creates, while Republicans on the whole think market outcomes are almost always better than anything government can produce.

That’s not cheap partisanship. It’s a fundamental divide. The paradox is that our understanding of politics would be more realistic if we were less cynical and came to see the battle for what it really is.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.

© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group


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By gerard, March 4, 2010 at 2:55 pm Link to this comment

Dionne sums it up:  “The point is not that Republicans are heartless and Democrats are compassionate. It’s that Democrats on the whole believe in using government to correct the inequities and inefficiencies the market creates, while Republicans on the whole think market outcomes are almost always better than anything government can produce.”
  So,if “Republicans .. .think market outcomes are almost always better than anything government can produce,” they should be furious over the bailouts.  Yet most of the recipients of bailouts are undoubtedly Republicans!??
  And, if the bailouts were used “to correct the inefficiencies of the market” (which would have qualified them as a Democratic policy under those terms), would the Repubs oppose the bailouts because they were used “to correct the inefficiencies of the market”? Or simply because they were untertaken by a Democratic administration?
  Something is missing.  The heart of the matter?
Republicans believe that people get what they deserve; if they are rich, so what?  If they are poor, so what? This is a belief, not a fact.
  Beliefs cannot usually be changed by facts, but facts can be overpowered by beliefs. “Thinking” and “believing” are different, though they are often used to mean the same, as in this article.

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By nemesis2010, March 4, 2010 at 1:15 pm Link to this comment

”The two real political parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people don’t acknowledge this. They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead.
-Kurt Vonnegut

“Yet even as they take turns denouncing one another, the two parties tacitly collaborate to maintain a status quo that both find eminently satisfactory.”
-Andrew Bacevich,  “The Limits of Power”

The bipartisan Congress is a façade.

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MarthaA's avatar

By MarthaA, March 3, 2010 at 10:43 pm Link to this comment

The Democratic Party is changing.  If the populace get public option health care for the entire population, you will have no doubt that the Democratic Party is representing the populace. 

The Right-Wing Republican Party doesn’t represent the populace at all, NEVER has——NEVER will.  All populace Republicans are cuckolds helping the Republicans and never will get any benefit from Republican representation.  The only way a populace Republican will get any benefit politically is when the Democrats get legislation through that helps the populace, and of course the Republicans claim it, but NO Right-Wing Republican cares a diddly about the populace.

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By samosamo, March 3, 2010 at 9:15 pm Link to this comment

By pdorsey936, March 3 at 10:25 pm

I see your conundrum, as at the most in my many years I have
tried to remain an independent so that looking at a candidate
would be more about the issues instead of some celebrity
personality contest and from reagan on, I have voted against
republicans(firmly believe eisenhower to be the last good
repub president) but as is for the president so goes for the
congress, repub/dem is basically one party with two names to
confuse the voters, but this country needs more than 2 parties.

And I don’t know what would be best other than following
Thomas Jefferson’s mandate in the Declaration of
Independence and rise up and take back our government from
the now threat to the security of that government of, for and
by the people.

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By pdorsey936, March 3, 2010 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment

I need to qualify myself to shed light on my previous comment. I turned 18 in 1976 and exercised my privilege to vote and have done so in every election since. I come from a very long line of conservative Republicans. As much as I hate to admit it,President Rutherford B.Hayes is in my family tree. This is to show the Republican history of our family. From my very first federal election I have consistently voted for the republicans. I joined the NRC in 1982 and was very proud of that. In 2008 that all changed, I voted for President Obama. That was not an easy thing for me to do. In fact it was one of the more painful decisions that I have made in my life. After eight years of the Cheney-Bush administration I simply had to vote for the Democrat. Now since this Health Care debate I have totally thrown in the towel. I have returned my NRC card and completely wash my hands of the Republicans. They have embarrassed the conservative values which I held steadfast to. The country is tired of the blatant LIES that these men and women spew. They are tired of the hypocrisy of these people. They have let the lunytoons from the outer fringe(Beck,Palin and Rush just to name a few) destroy the core values of the party. I am not declaring that I am a Democrat in any way, shape or form. I still hold true to my conservative values and love for this great nation. I can only call myself an Independent.

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By AmiBlue, March 3, 2010 at 1:58 pm Link to this comment

The ideological differences between the Parties have been exaggerated beyond reason.  The republicans believe they are the sole rightful power in the country and they use the divide to get elected/re-elected office, not because of ironclad principles.  Nor can they take responsibility for the damage they do when they are in office.

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By MarthaA, March 3, 2010 at 12:10 pm Link to this comment

Repuplicans talk for their constituents, the corporations, the elite and the extremely wealthy, those are the people they are talking about when they say “the people”, their constituents;  NOT the populace. 

It would be nice to have Public Health Care on the National Ballot for the people to vote, but should the Republicans ever agree to putting Public Health Care up to a vote, Republicans would insure that the question would be worded in such a deceiving way that when the people voted yes, it would mean no.  Republicans are not interested in the populace having anything, Republicans are of the opinion that health care for the populace is outrageous, because there would not be near so much money to give to the banks and the military industrial complex. Republicans have to conserve all the $‘s for their benefit, not YOURS.

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By pdorsey936, March 3, 2010 at 9:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The status quot in the health care industry is imperative to the congressional members who depend on the large campaign contributions from this segment. The status quot is imperative to the health care industry because sweeping reform would mean billions in lost revenues. Neither group gives a damn what the citizens of this country really want. We hear these politicians say over and over that the people don’t want this reform ,the people don’t want a public option, the people don’t want competition in this market. Why not ask the people what they really want. Put it on the national ballot this fall and let us vote on this measure. I would be willing to stake my life on the fact that the majority of the citizens want to see this change. And while we are at it, let’s let the citizens vote whether or not we want to see term limitations on congress? I believe that both congress and the health care industry would be afraid to see the results. How about it? Let the people have their say!!

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By Hildebrand, The Insurance Warden, March 2, 2010 at 2:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A worthy difference between unemployment and health problems is that unemployment tends to (but not always) afflict those who deserve unemployment benefits the least, that is, those who contributed less than others when they were on the job.

I sympathize for the many unfortunates who are out of work, but there is a case against unemployment insurance.  The best type of unemployment insurance is conservative personal finance and saving.  In fact, let’s save enough to help out our younger relatives in the event that they fall out of work.

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By LJL, March 2, 2010 at 2:31 pm Link to this comment

E. J. Dionne is as usual reasonable, insightful and correct.  Unfortunately he doesn’t shout his opinions while ridiculing opponents, which leads some of the readers with the impression that he is being mealy mouthed. While Dionne writes about the fundamentals of democracy, he, unfortunately, is being challenged by commentators who are not wholly dedicated to democracy.  Their “democracy” consists of wholesale acceptance of their opinions while opposite opinions are rejected and stigmatized. Dionne talks about the democratic process and his opponents want only the triumph of the good and true.  I prefer Dionne.

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By Richie73, March 2, 2010 at 8:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

No we can’t.

The rightwing theocrats are eliminationists. They believe that those of us who believe in personal freedom and constitutional rights aren’t just wrong but literally don’t have a right to exist.

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By MarthaA, March 1, 2010 at 6:18 pm Link to this comment

The wealthy have been trying to get rid of that Estate Tax for years, and it is imperative that they keep the Estate Tax.  Republicans tried really, really hard to pass it off as a Death Tax and fool the populace into thinking they were going to be taxed when they die, but they didn’t get it done and Republicans still have it and should keep it forever, but Republicans, who represent the wealthy, will be forever trying to sneak the Estate Tax in with some other legislation and get it passed unobserved.

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By nemesis2010, March 1, 2010 at 1:08 pm Link to this comment

Can’t we all get alone? Who’s we? The only “we” in AmeriCorp’s government is the ruling corporate elite. We the people have no voice in AmeriCorp’s two-party façade. It—the two party façade of the one corporate party—is the bane of personal freedom and liberty except for the small ruling elite.

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” –Noam Chomsky

Congressional procedure was designed as a system to facilitate multiple and contentious factions that would represent a greater cross section of the American population. Each with a (representative) voice, forced to reach reconciliation amongst themselves in order to gain a majority and resolve issues. That’s impossible with a one-party system that is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ruling corporate elite.

Simply observe that if an issue has to do with the population as a whole there are always obstructions to prevent any clear solution. If an issue has to do with the continuance of subsidies to Big Corp, increase funding to the MIC, tax cuts and shelters for the wealthiest 1%, foreign aid (which is an indirect means of increase in corporate subsidies & monopoly) or any other issue that maintains the desires of the ruling elite against that of the public at large –there is nary a word of opposition and absolutely no action against.

GNPDNCCorp is a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Corp.

I cannot wait for Big Corp to finally realize that by cutting out the middleman—the political puppet hack—Big Corp can increase its profits and tremendously reduce expenses. Without a puppet senator, representative, president or Supreme Court judge, Big Corp would have no need of all those expensive lobbyists. The savings in campaign buy outs contributions, salaries and benefits paid to lobbyists, congressional golfing excursions fact finding missions, and the salaries of the puppet politicians could be automatically deposited into Big Corp’s bank account! Millions more instantly available for CEO and board member bonuses! And as an extra bonus; no stupid deer in the highlight, pompadour politicians spewing lies from their upper anuses!  No siree! Whether it’s president ExxonMobil, Senator Chevron, Representative Big Pharma or Supreme Court judge MIC doing the talking; there will be an articulate corporate spokesmen doing the talking for him or her (who decides what sex to give a corporation?) and hand feeding us the fructose enriched corporate bullchit!

The conservatives could finally realize their dream of smaller government as corporations merge seats and agencies laying off downsizing each agency’s personnel. Efficiency means higher profits and higher profits mean bigger bonuses for CEOs and board members!

Exxon Mobil for president 2012!

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By samosamo, March 1, 2010 at 12:36 pm Link to this comment

I used to think and ask ‘why can’t we just all get along’, but now
I realize that would require the autotron person, basically
everyone without an individuality no creative interests or ideas, I
would say that the ‘ministry of truth’ has come close to creating
their ideal of such.

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By P. T., March 1, 2010 at 11:46 am Link to this comment

If we learn nothing else in 2010, can we please finally acknowledge that “authentic principles” are camouflage for self-interest?

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By mrfreeze, March 1, 2010 at 11:37 am Link to this comment

No, we cannot get along. Our restless nature, violent DNA and growing uneducated population will lead us to a darwinian, brutish end. Neo-fascism at your doorstep. Get used to it.

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By Hulk2008, March 1, 2010 at 11:35 am Link to this comment

Reagan successfully sold the masses with mindless simplicities - down-home pull yourself up by the bootstraps stuff.  It appealed to the mostly white, mostly blue collar types who voted for him in droves.  It still appeals to older folks and even to those whose jobs are being funneled away from the US by the big corporations (who benefited by Reagan’s anti-Washington rhetoric).  Face it - younger people and the economically disadvantaged do not vote in large numbers; they mostly are apathetic.
The bulk of voters shun complexities and big, costly solutions. If the truth were told, most would prefer a Constitution written on one page by an Evelyn Wood Reading graduate. 
The problem is that troubles ARE complex - solutions even more complicated. 
Even if “Obama-Care” cut the deficit by 2/3 in one year, it would not be trusted or supported. 

Sen. Durbin could have just said, “Mr. President, ditch the bills and just expand Medicare - then figure out how to pay for it.”  That might have been simplistic enough even for a Reagan supporter.

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By gerard, March 1, 2010 at 11:20 am Link to this comment

Imagine this:  Left and Right disagaree on most policies.  But they seem to agree on one:  That it is not right for central government to coopt the public treasury to bail out financiers who have gambled away investment money on high risk schemes and lost due to mismanagement, and then permit payment of high bonuses to top individuals responsible for the mismanagement or condoning it. 
  What if left and right factions could get together and take action together to protrt and prevent this kind of financial management? Then, if they succeeded, could they find some common ground on what to do instead—how to provide mortgage relief for ordinary householders, for example. If successful ...?
  I know it sounds simple-minded, and I admit to that fault—but—there has to be some way to grasp both horns of our dilemma and find a common issue to help heal and understand our problems, some of which we hold in common.
  Simply arguing and ranting will only separate us more, and obscure the solution. Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not talking about denial of important differences, or giving up any ideals.  I’m talking about reconciliation—how, when, if—to keep us from descending into chaos.

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By balkas, March 1, 2010 at 10:55 am Link to this comment

To some people,visualization is the most efficient human thought.
Let’s visualize an idyllic society in which ALL people wld work cheerfully; w.o. supervision and with all people also owning work-place?

Well, i can see people in their rightful glory: peaceful, secure, friendly, trusting-respecting others and being trusted-respected by others.

ALL wld earn ab equal wages. ALL cld obtain higher education.

The wealth that such a society wld generate wld be just fantastic. In wealth, i also include calmness, safety, security, belonging, respect, gregariousness, nourishing food, healthcare for everyone, etc.

That is what, i think, the amirs, aghas, kings, ceos, editors,b’naires, collumnists, lords, earls, counts, boyars also visualize and tremble of the thought that one day people might want just such a society and go for it!

Such a system or structure of society cld be tried and if found inadequate or worse than what we have today it cld be changed or abandoned, provided people are in charge of own business.

They are not now. And the ruling class won’t promote such an experiment because, obviously, their powers wld greatly diminish. Oh, what a discovery! tnx

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By gerard, March 1, 2010 at 10:00 am Link to this comment

Hammond Eggs:  They may “govern the same way” (which is largely due to rotten campaign financing allowed to remain in the hands of corporations). But the “philosphy” of the two parties has long been, and still is, fundamentally different. 
  The campaign financing system erases the differences by making it impossible to get elected if the candidate chooses to support public benefits—welfare, education, health insurance, nonbeliigerent foreign policies, etc. etc.
  Campaign financing has got to be changed, the sooner the better.  The way it is now, all candidates are “bought” the moment they step on the campaign trail. With the recent “Supreme” Court ruling, the ball is way outside right field, over the fence.

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By Hammond Eggs, March 1, 2010 at 9:38 am Link to this comment

. . . can we please finally acknowledge that our partisan divisions are about authentic principles that lead to very different approaches to governing?

What is this fool talking about?  The Democrats and Republicans govern precisely the same way.  They are both totally corrupt and need to be electorally destroyed.

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By balkas, March 1, 2010 at 9:09 am Link to this comment

Dion can pick issues on which a repub and a dem might disagree, but i can pick issues on which they agree.

Unfortunately for black slaves, blacks now, darkies of asia, most latins, people of hiroshima, et al there is no nor has ever been a sliver of difference btwn the two wings of one party.

And all parties have at least two wings + their shares of dissenters.

In communist, fascist, social democrats, socialist, NDP, Liberals, Conservatives, Labour parties there is lotsof infighting; people being ejected from caucus or even switching parties. tnx

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By Miko, March 1, 2010 at 9:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Catastrophic care insurance is actually really great. 
I switched over to catastrophic dental about two and
a half years ago (unfortunately, misguided government
regulations where I live prevent catastrophic health
coverage plans) and I’ve found that the money I save
on insurance premiums have been more than enough to
cover my routine expenses (which makes sense, as
everything is the same except that I no longer have
to pay a middleman at the insurance company). 
Contrary to Obama’s 40,000$ hypothetical, the less
money a person has the more they’ll benefit from
switching to catastrophic care insurance.  If only,
you know, the government would stop being
paternalistic nitwits and let us have that option.

Anyway, as someone who will never vote for a
Republican (and only for a Democrat if a credible 3rd
party option isn’t available), I find it disturbing
that Dionne wants to define the difference between
the Democrats and Republicans as “unlike Republicans,
Democrats believe in economics theories which are
demonstrably wrong.”  It wasn’t long ago that the
left was criticizing the Republicans for their “war
on science.”  It’s sad to see that the Democrats have
an equal disrespect for science and intellect.

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By Vic Anderson, March 1, 2010 at 6:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What battle? DEMiserepubilkans are playing on the Corporate Gridiron, while
“their” public, US are left STANDING on The COMMONS (for the PROMISED single-
payer)!

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By OhioGuy, March 1, 2010 at 6:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

republicans oppose the government helping the citizens of America in any way (unless they are fabulously wealthy). But the government *is* the citizens of America. This is supposed to be a democracy.

Conservatives will be the death of America, and sooner rather than later. I’m glad I’m old enough to miss most of the aftermath. It ain’t gonna be pretty.

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By elana, March 1, 2010 at 5:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i do very much agree that there’s a fundamental divide, however i disagree that it’s not cheap partisanship. i might have agreed with you once upon a time, but since 1-20-09, not so much.

<<<The point is not that Republicans are heartless and Democrats are compassionate. It’s that Democrats on the whole believe in using government to correct the inequities and inefficiencies the market creates, while Republicans on the whole think market outcomes are almost always better than anything government can produce.>>>

i would argue that believing market outcomes are better than what government can produce is either the result of a selfish, heartless, unethical philosophy, or some combination of utter delusion and abject stupidity. and i’m not being hyperbolic when i say that.

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