Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Myth of Bipartisanship

The blogos is afire with discussions of bipartisanship, so I'd like to take a moment to point out the obvious:

Bipartisan politics are a myth. They do not exist. The term holds zero meaning.

When two parties disagree, how do you tell which one was disagreeing for partisan reasons? (Usually it's the party you disagree with.) And when two parties agree, isn't everyone being equally bipartisan?

Don't misread me, political compromise is virtuous. Some of our history's greatest politicians kept coming back to the Congress with new solutions that attempted to bridge the party gap and address everyone's concerns. Political compromise is not embodied by a simple insistence that the other party should break ranks more often. Political compromise is best captured in plans that split the dilemma between different agendas. Political compromise is about understanding those who disagree with you, not about casting them as villains for it.

On TARP, the current political dilemma is rooted deeply in economic theory. Some, like Paul Krugman, believe that urgency is imperative, and that the deadweight loss of tax-financed government spending and the inefficiency of government is zero or negative. Others, like Kevin Murphy*, believe that urgent action heightens the inefficiency of any program to a degree where any government action will be more harmful than no government action whatsoever. The dilemma is intractable, urgency is either helpful and necessary or damaging and harmful. Anyone waving the flag of bipartisanship right now either does not understand the core of the disagreement, or simply feels slander would be faster than an open discussion of ideas.

If there is such a thing as bipartisanship, these politicians are a long way from it.

*I cannot recommend Murphy's analysis highly enough, it includes more variables beyond those mentioned here, and helps shed light on the economic assumptions of everyone involved in this discussion, regardless of which side they are on.