Fetishizing Bipartisanship Is Kind of Dumb


“Not one Democrat voted for North Dakota’s new Voter ID law,” the Grand Forks Herald says in an editorial today. “That’s reason enough for Gov. Doug Burgum to veto it.”

The editorial goes on to make some additional critiques of the law which I don’t agree with (here are my thoughts on that) but those opening lines caught my eye.

Because they represent an arbitrary and shallow standard for good public policy.

“Bipartisan” is a buzzword in American politics, one widely accepted to signal the virtues of a given policy. If Democrats and Republicans agree on something, then it must be good, right?

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]…the criticism which should be least important is that which is related to the partisan makeup of the support or opposition.[/mks_pullquote]

Many controversial policies are bipartisan. The vote authorizing the use of military force in Iraq was bipartisan, for instance.

Sometimes controversial policies passed by partisan majorities. Obamacare is an example of this.

Does the efficacy of these policies really hinge on the political affiliations of those voting on them? Of course not. That’s absurd. The case for war, or health care reform, should rest on considerations of the policies themselves and not a head count of R’s and D’s.

This is particularly important in North Dakota where voters have cast Democrats into the political wilderness in one election cycle after another. There are many times when the tiny contingent Democrats in lock step against the Republican majority.

Does that mean every one of those policies Democrats oppose en bloc are bad? Or wrong for North Dakota?

Of course not. While there’s always room to question any given policy – legislating is a human endeavor and thus inherently imperfect – the criticism which should be least important is that which is related to the partisan makeup of the support or opposition.

That can be hard. Heck, I struggle with it myself. It can be hard to discern good policy coming form a group of people who typically propose things you find objectionable.

We all have our biases.

None of this is to say that a degree of cooperation between opposing political faction is completely unnecessary. For instance, I very much like the filibuster in the United States Senate for policy because it requires that any national policy passing through that chamber have at least some level of buy in from the minority party. The filibuster is often derided (usually by the same folks who have a fetish for bipartisanship) as a tool of obstruction when really it’s a sort of mandate for a degree of cooperation.

There is something to be said for policy that is born of comity among the various political factions.

Yet to issue a broad pronouncement that any policy which lacks bipartisan support is somehow inherently flawed is just plain silly.

If Governor Doug Burgum vetoes the voter ID law passed by the Legislature I hope he does so based on a consideration of the policy itself and not the partisan affiliations of those who backed it.