Former President Bill Clinton called out the tea party for discouraging bipartisanship by wanting people to check their brains at the door.
Alex Wagner: Do you think bipartisanship is dead? Governor Christie is going to speak at CGI America. He plays a boardwalk game with President Obama and it is a national issue. They go and tour the state of New Jersey after devastating storms He’s hand-in-glove with the president on recovery efforts and the Republican Party is furious. What is going to happen to Chris Christie when he comes — and again, is pledging to work with the efforts — work in hand with former Democratic president?
President Clinton: Well, it’s interesting. I think in the culture of the Northeast, if you’re a Republican and want to get elect and re-elected, bipartisanship is imperative. In sort of the way we’ve separated out our cultures, in the Deep South and some of the intermountain west, if you want to do that, you get creamed. I mean I saw that this Republican woman who was a third-generation I think owner of a general store that sold guns and had 100% NRA record was the chairman of the committee in the Tennessee legislature that referred a bill to committee, she basically killed the bill for the session that the NRA wanted that said you could carry your loaded concealed weapon anywhere and leave it in any parking lot. Any parking lot at all. And they ran pictures of her and her district with President Obama and beat her by 16 points in the primary. In other words, they’re basically trying to get everybody to check their brain at the door.
Bob English got beat in South Carolina because he said he realized he didn’t have to hate the president to disagree with him. And that global warming was real. Boy, those were non-starters. He gets beat more than 2 – 1 in the primary. So there are cultures in which this is happening.
But in the end, this constant conflict, this ideological war, is wildly ineffective at getting anything done. It won’t work in the modern world. So I think that where bipartisanship is possible, you just have to keep working on it. Congress cannot function. Part of this, to be fair, it is reapportionment. but a part of it is, look at the media. Why are you successful? Finally people think we’ve got an answer to Fox. Why are all these things being broken up in niche networks? We’re sorting ourselves out by what we believe. I tell everybody now it is America’s last remaining bigotry. We’re less racist, sexist, homophobic than we used to be. We just don’t want to be around anybody that disagrees with us.
Notice that Clinton mentioned two examples where more extreme right wingers punished Republicans for daring to express bipartisan thoughts or defying the will of the NRA. The same closed mindedness also exists on the extreme left, but the difference is that the far left doesn’t primary Democrats who they feel run afoul of their agenda.
President Obama and congressional Democrats spent years reaching out to Republicans in a bipartisan way. Their efforts were regularly rebuffed by congressional Republicans who are terrified that any expression of bipartisanship will get them primaried.
The main reason why the far right has been able to kill bipartisanship is that the Republican Party has gotten smaller. Reagan’s big tent has been replaced with a one idea pup tent. Chris Christie stands out because he is one of the last of an endangered species. He is a Republican that will express the occasional bipartisan thought.
Too much ideological rigidity is a bad thing. I cringe every time Obama offers to compromise with Republicans and the far left goes on their tea partylike rant about how the president is caving. Politics shouldn’t viewed as the zero sum game that many see it as today. President Clinton understands the problem and the solution. The hard part is going to be getting the country back to where it needs to be.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association