The Necessity of Tri-Partisanship

From The New York Times:

With Democrats reeling from the Republican victory in the Massachusetts special Senate election, President Obama on Wednesday signaled that he might be willing to set aside his goal of achieving near-universal health coverage for all Americans in favor of a stripped-down measure with bipartisan support.

Helpful update, poor analytical frame.

The League of Ordinary Gentlemen constantly point out that there are three parties in the United States:  Democrats (really liberals), Centrists, and Republicans.  Centrists are not simply the lowest common denominator between the other parties (splitting the difference), but rather their own party-ideology which can at times be as radical as any other.

Liberals prefer to see a strong activist role for government to deal with the vagaries and flaws of a market-based economic system:  e.g. health care expansion, climate change policy, aid to the poor, etc.  Centrists are corporatist types, usually socially liberal (though not always; see, for example, Ben Nelson).  Republicans are pro-corporate (often even more so than the centrists) and usually more socially conservative.

Given the circumstances, this is where the post-Scott Brown commentary about “now Obama will be bipartisan” is off.  Obama has already been bipartisan for the entire year he has been in office.  The two parties he has worked to bring together on health care were the liberals and centrists.  That coalition was never going to get climate change legislation or strong regulatory reform passed, given the 60 vote hurdle of the filibuster in the Senate.

But the alliance of liberals and centrists was able to pass a healthcare bill through both the Senate and House (just not the same one, unfortunately).

A liberal-centrist alliance was an alliance of state regulatory powers with special interest (corporate) power.  The health care bill and Waxman-Markey climate change legislation fit that description.  This approach does spur reform by bringing existing special interest players (i.e. insurance industry, the energy industry, etc.) to the table.  Unfortunately, the “bipartisan” health care bill seems destined for a Tennessee Titans-like Super Bowl loss, with the ball just a yard short of the end zone.

Now the opportunity for healthcare reform is gone and Dems are likely to suffer more losses in the upcoming midterm elections.  The remaining centrists (especially Dem centrists in the House) will use the victory of Scott Brown to halt even incremental efforts at reform.

Which leaves not bipartisanship (which has already been tried and failed), but the need it would seem for tri-partisanship.  The difficulty here of course is that the Republican party is completely opposed to the liberal-centrist agenda en toto.  Their alternative plans (e.g. health care), such as they have offered any to date, do not strike me as particularly serious.

I don’t know how to pull off a tri-partisan bargain, but this is the only way anything is going to get done at this point.

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15 thoughts on “The Necessity of Tri-Partisanship

  1. That’s not a very charitable interpretation of the Republican’s governing philosophy, Chris. It seems to me that if you’re going to break down the major parties into ideological subsets, you ought to at least acknowledge the libertarian, anti-corporatist streak running through the GOP.

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  2. “The difficulty here of course is that the Republican party is completely opposed to the liberal-centrist agenda en toto. ”
    ..
    “I don’t know how to pull off a tri-partisan bargain, but this is the only way anything is going to get done at this point.”

    So, essentially, your position is that the only things that can be passed are Republican initiatives that the other ‘2 sides’ will go along with. I agree in general, although I may quibble about the details. We have government by toddler tantrum.

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    • You don’t need all Republicans – just some; you don’t need all centrists, just some; you don’t need all Democrats, just most of them. I know this is beating a dead horse, but Wyden-Bennett (or something like it) is acceptable to some – though admittedly not most – Republicans. It is acceptable to most centrists. It is acceptable to all but the most heavily union-influenced Democrats and adored by Starbucks liberals. I’d wager that you’d be as or more likely to get to 60 votes with Wyden-Bennett as you would be with something acceptable to all the Democrats and most centrists.

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        • I have genuine fondness for Wyden-Bennett. Perhaps if Obama decides to run away from his party’s bill he should try pushing that. My cynical side says, however, that even if he somehow convinced the Dems to move it forward the Republican supporters would leap off of it like fleas on a hot skillet.
          The current bill, despite its warts and sweeteners, after all is significantly more conservative than its’ namesake from 1994.

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  3. Thinking about this, it’d be helpful if the centrists stood as their own party, then that way when the voters repudiate them, they can’t just blame agitators from the base or another party’s politics. Centrism, as defined here, is a party without challenge and in control of far too much.

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