'Post-Partisan' Future Is a Mirage

Obama tried. The GOP couldn't be trusted. Don't bother.

You can’t have a democracy without trust, and you can’t have trust when one of two parties finds ways of avoiding dealing with the other. When there is no incentive to deal, deals don’t get done. When deals don’t get done, you have what we have.

This would seem the most obvious thing to point out, as if I were insulting your intelligence, it’s so apparent, yet it’s not, because there are voices, entirely on the Republican side, who have incentive to obscure the fact that the Republicans Party, after Barack Obama won the presidency, not only avoided dealing with him, but benefited from sabotaging what had been considered the rules of engagement.

This was further obscured by an elite news media that misunderstood, or would not understand, what was happening, that is only now starting to catch up to this new reality, but that still insists both parties are equally bad, so that no effort on the part of the Democrats to improve their behavior can be noticed or credited, but is instead punished. With an increasingly nihilistic GOP, the Democrats can’t do good, because they can’t be seen as good in a media environment in which both are equally bad.

Further obscuring what should be obvious to you, me and everyone we know is a caste of truth-tellers refusing to be responsible for the truths they tell. I’m talking about many Washington journalists, of course, many of whom say they champion free speech and free press but stop short of doing what must be done if their code of ethics is to have instrumental meaning, if their profession is to have lasting impact on the citizenry they say they serve. When elite journalists cite the First Amendment to rationalize Fox News’ campaign to poison the American body politic by abusing the Bill of Rights, they aren’t holding power to account. They are in bed with it.

Because these truth-tellers refuse to do the hard work of coming to moral conclusions, they free themselves to ask questions the answers to which would be quite obvious to you and me and everyone we know if not for the truth-tellers, the propagandists and the partisan hacks working, if not conspiratorially, then in correlation, to bend political reality so that up is down, left is right, slavery is freedom, and for a long enough time that most things slip down the memory hole and nothing gets done.

Don’t be Charlie Brown

What questions? Why are Americans so divided? What are the roots of the dilemma? Oh, those vexingest of vexing questions! What could the answers be! If only there was one for the truth-telling caste to discern and distribute to the citizenry! The answer is so elusive, so hard to pin down, so magical, even, like a unicorn. Doesn’t really matter, though, because it doesn’t exist, but who cares? We can get rich looking for it!

None of this bullshit would be so bad if it weren’t believed so deeply and so widely, especially among Democratic candidates for the party’s presidential nomination who appear to be looking to Barack Obama as model of electoral success, so much so that they keep saying something to the effect of: if we can just get everyone in the room together, and set aside our differences, check our ideologies at the doors, then I’m sure we can find ways to solve our pressing problems—I’ll be post-partisan president.

Any Democrat using those words is Charlie Brown trusting Lucy to hold the football. He knows she moved it every time before. The evidence of his eyes should undermine any gesture of goodwill. But he insists he knows, by spiritual conviction, that she won’t move the ball; then, she does. These Democrats, presuming they really mean it, don’t appear to understand something obvious: that the Republicans can’t be trusted.

How bad is it? Consider that they engage in bad faith even when they don’t have to. After a Republican-elect was found to have defrauded voters in North Carolina, thus triggering a new election for a House seat, Mitch McConnell could have railed against fraud of all kinds. He could have built up goodwill. He could have presented himself as above the fray (for the time being). But why do that with dishonesty is so rewarding?

Instead, McConnell had the nerve to say voter-ID laws would have stopped the crime. He chided critics of voter-ID laws for their arrogance! Fact is, it was election fraud. By a candidate. Not by voters. But what does it matter? That’s what people say when they have no intention of working honestly with their counterparts. That’s what people say when they reserve the right to burn the house down if they don’t get their way.

Former aides to Barack Obama say this new crop of Democratic candidates shouldn’t bother talking about post-partisanship. They themselves tried. They failed. They were even punished for it by a news media that treats both parties the same. The Democrats couldn’t do good, because they couldn’t be good in a media climate that’s amoral.

This is a new political reality. Democrats would have run away from socialism in the past. They aren’t running now, not because they like socialism (most don’t) but because they don’t fear being smeared for being open to fresh ideas. They don’t fear the Republicans, because the Republicans will smear them no matter that they do. That, at least, is something the Democrats can trust. Best to win back the White House, and ask later if the Republicans want to play ball. If they don’t, the hell with ’em.

—John Stoehr