Dems, don’t be bipartisan

How do you compromise with extremists?

Answer: You don’t. And if you try to do it, you get burned.

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With only 40 senators left on Capitol Hill, Republicans have been relegated to rump regional status, yet Democrats continue to debate whether they should engage Republicans to pass the president’s ambitious agenda. With 60 senators and a massive House majority, Democrats should theoretically be able to pass legislation at will.

Nevertheless, the inside-the-Beltway drumbeat for forced “bipartisanship” persists. “Technically he may be able to pass the bill in one of these big complex areas without bipartisan support, but it won’t be as good a product,” Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee told The New York Times. “I suspect he’ll lose the support of the country in the process.”

That’s nonsense. The past eight years have clearly shown that Republicans are incapable of offering a good product, and obstructing Democratic efforts won’t improve their batting average. Moreover, the American people spoke clearly in 2008, electing massive Democratic majorities to Congress and Barack Obama to the White House. That wasn’t a vote for “bipartisanship.” It was a vote for Democratic solutions to vexing problems regarding the economy, healthcare and two wars.

Bipartisanship simply isn’t a practical or desirable approach in 2009 — not with a Democratic mandate and a fringe GOP. After two consecutive electoral routs, the surviving Republicans generally represent the safest base turf. Republicans represent 17 of the 24 Southern seats, 10 of the 26 Western seats, 10 of the 26 Midwestern seats and just three of the 24 Northeastern seats. Republicans dominate just the South and the Mormon Corridor in the Rockies. The entire GOP Senate leadership hailed from those two regions until Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) resigned his leadership post because of scandal.

Last week’s Daily Kos/Research 2000 national poll found that the Republican Party had a favorability rating of 41 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable in the South. In the Midwest it was 13-80, in the West 14-78, and in the Northeast 6-91. Now that’s what a regional party looks like — a party at odds with the rest of mainstream America.

Even prominent Republicans are admitting the awful truth. “We got too many Jim DeMints and Tom Coburns,” Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich told The Columbus Dispatch this week. “It’s the Southerners. They get on TV and go, ‘Errrr, errrrr.’ People hear them and say, ‘These people, they’re Southerners. The party’s being taken over by Southerners. What they hell they got to do with Ohio?’ ”

Nothing, of course. And the Voinoviches of the party are increasingly rare. The Ohio senator is retiring, and his seat is a prime Democratic pickup opportunity in 2010. Arlen Specter was forced to switch parties by a primary challenge from a Southern-style Republican. In Maine, rabid conservatives routinely blast the state’s moderate Republican senators.

Even some of the Senate’s most ardent supporters of “bipartisanship” are reassessing commitment to that ideal. “I wouldn’t even have hesitated two, four years ago when the numbers were so close: It would have been absolutely yes on bipartisanship,” Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh told The New York Times. “The Republicans are reduced to a core, so there aren’t that many pragmatists left to work things out.”

The irony, of course, is that there is bipartisanship in this country. Just not in D.C. Per Gallup polling, nearly a quarter of Republicans favor Congress “passing a major healthcare reform bill this year.” The issue isn’t lack of Republican support, it’s a Beltway GOP fixated on the priorities of its antiquated Southern base. As long as that persists, “bipartisanship” is doomed.



Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos
(www.dailykos.com).