In the aftermath of the harsh and bruising 2008 election, there are calls for “bipartisanship”. Literally the word means, “Having members from, or representing two parties”. However, current political usage implies an era of good feeling during which opposing parties cooperate for the common good.
Is such a coalition approach to government healthy for democracy? Will the submerging of differences lead to the greatest good for the greatest number? Does it bring us closer to one-party rule?
If the Democratic and Republican parties were to place top value on agreement, that would be a recipe for maintaining the status quo, for the easiest course would be to accept current conditions. Change would be difficult. But our democratic system calls for political competition in the same way that our free market capitalist system requires that choices be available to the consumer. There should be more than one product available and then let the market decide.
In politics, different constituencies have different needs and objectives. The function of the parties is to represent them. The four pillars of the Democratic Party are organized labor, African-Americans, women and ethnic minorities. The four pillars of the Republican Party are the religious right, the anti-abortionists, white men, and higher income people. The parties have an obligation to represent and work for the interests of their pillars, otherwise they will have no function and eventually, no pillars.
In our free market system, the rest of the country acts as the consumer, making the decision according to the way they see their own interests affected. Compromise among the competitors is not excluded but ought to be a last resort so as not to blur differences. As the French have told us in another connection, “Vive Le Difference.”
Bipartisanship may have a reassuring and pleasant ring but it is more likely to limit than to enhance democracy. Our goal should be civility and respect for the opposition, but above all, authentic competition.