Throughout the 2008 election campaign and ever since the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, I have heard politicians, pundits and prognosticators talk about the need for a “bipartisan” government approach to solve the problems facing the U.S.

Now I just need to know what that means, if it ever existed and whether it really represents a good thing.

When the Republicans controlled the White House and Congress for six years, they pretty much did what they wanted, despite efforts by the Democrats to offer alternatives. The Democrats bemoaned the lack of “bipartisanship" displayed by their colleagues across the aisle.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, and the Democrats — willing to listen but not inclined to embrace the opposition party’s viewpoint on the stimulus package, the budget and other matters — have moved forward their agenda with votes across straight party lines.

The Republicans scream “liars” and remind the Democrats that they promised to operate in a spirit of bipartisanship. Moving an agenda forward and pretty much ignoring the opposition have always been the spoils of political victory. Why else fight the war?

Historians will tell you that the “spirit of bipartisanship” is just that, a spirit — as in a ghost. Historically speaking, bipartisanship rarely has existed, and when it does, it revolves around things either inconsequential — congressional resolutions with no standing — or monumental — declarations of war or bills aimed at preserving the democracy such as the first version of the PATRIOT Act. I say the first version because the re-enactment of PATRIOT was a contentious battle fought mostly along party lines. And some people think that “bipartisanship” does not work and actually does more harm than good.

They believe that political parties have clearly defined positions on key issues and that if you shift from those clearly defined stances — even an iota — you sell out the party and yourself. They point to “coalition” governments — shaky devices born of “centrist” thought — as examples of the wrong way to govern.

I think their position carries weight.

Look at the core principles of the two mainstream parties in the U.S. with respect to the hot-button issues: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, taxes, abortion and a handful of others. Is there really middle ground?

For me, answering this might be easier if someone could define “bipartisanship” in clear terms.

Perhaps some of you can offer a starting point.



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