Bipartisanship may be the single most destructive force in Washington. Today, it is on the lips of the president, congressional leaders and commentators alike. They say we need a new tone in Washington. We need to work together on health care reform. We need a bipartisan commission to solve our deficit problem.
No. We. Don’t. Bipartisanship saps faith in politics and government. It protects the most stupid and counterproductive federal policies. It erodes ethics. It unites America’s ruling class against the ruled. And, inevitably, it leads to the growth of government power.
If you want a poster boy for what is wrong with bipartisanship, recently deceased Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, is a perfect one. Once the chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Mr. Murtha used his power over the Defense Department budget to reward former staffers-turned-lobbyists, while guiding lucrative-but-pointless contracts to defense contractors in his district and engorging his campaign war chest.
Democrat Mr. Murtha was only doing what the Republican chairman before him and the Democratic chairman before him did. Every time voters demanded change, they got the same old thing with a different letter behind the name. When he died, Mr. Murtha was beset by scandal, but he was far from the most crooked. Republican Randy “Duke” Cunningham was convicted in 2008 for taking the traditional bipartisan relationship between lawmaker and defense contractor even further.
But the distance between unindicted sleaze and convicted felon isn’t that far. Indeed, Messrs. Cunningham and Murtha were prominent co-sponsors of yet another bipartisan endeavor - amending the Constitution to ban flag burning. Bipartisanship and an increasingly bossy government go hand and hand.
Take the famous McCain-Feingold campaign-finance re- form law, named for a senator of each party. The legislation twist- ed the core of the First Amendment to allow new restrictions on what nonpoliticians can do in trying to influence which politicians get to go back to Washington. There’s nothing more bipartisan than the desire to stifle all that pesky criticism at election time.
And there’s so much to criticize. Today, we spend billions to subsidize all kinds of environmentally friendly energy because a bipartisan coalition supports that idea, and every president for decades has expanded that spending. Yet alternative energy has never been able to compete in the market. Why’s that? There isn’t a real market to compete in. A bipartisan coalition from coal, natural-gas and oil-producing states has protected lavish subsidies for those forms of energy, as well.
You wonder why the tax code is so complex? Presidents of both parties and a bipartisan coalition of senators and representatives have been happy to add layer after layer of doodads and gewgaws to the law to encourage people and businesses to do what the bipartisan leviathan bids.
If something in Washington is a mess, chances are it has bipartisan support. That’s why America needs not less partisanship, but more - a lot more.
David Mastio is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times.