The Fairy Tale of Bipartisanship

We do love our fairy tales, don’t we? From Aesop to the brothers Grimm, the stories have always taught us to cooperate and work together. Then came Stone Soup, which added a little guile to the mix.

Yet nobody seems to have written a fairy tale of what you do with the playground bully. How do you cooperate with someone who smacks you in the face at every turn? How do you cooperate with people who are committed to flagrant lies and, apparently, to your very extinction?

The White House is surely alive to this dilemma, yet Joe Biden’s ambitious speech to Congress could not openly affirm that bipartisanship is dead without damaging all protocol. And so the startling breadth and extent of his proposals will have to send that message. It’s a smart way to avoid breaking with convention.

The Democrats are in the precarious position of likely losing their feeble majority in the 2022 midterms. The only way they can maintain political sustainability is by rolling the legislative dice. That is what Biden is doing, while paying lip service to bipartisanship. Read this good explanation of why and how he has to “shoot for the moon.”

The roadblock of Joe Manchin on the filibuster cannot last. Biden will have to cut a deal with him. Manchin’s cooperation will have to be bought, and his bipartisan fairy tale seen for what it is. Some kind of deal will be made because the stakes are simply too high.

These things happen in politics, and we should recognize that, as one commentator put it,

The most effective Presidents are those who put forth bold policy ideas and follow through by translating those ideas into law. Doing so requires taking political risks and embracing the challenges of political leadership, which often means persuading supporters to get on board rather than simply doing what is safe.

Opinion seems to be building on the need to forego bipartisanship. Certainly, one lone senator cannot be permitted to disable the kind of prodigious reforms that Biden is putting forward. Fairy tales finally must be distinguished from real life.

Update: Ezra Klein on the folly of bipartisanship:

This is what Manchin gets wrong: A world of partisan governance is a world in which Republicans and Democrats both get to pass their best ideas into law, and the public judges them on the results. That is far better than what we have now, where neither party can routinely pass its best ideas into law, and the public is left frustrated that so much political tumult changes so little.

Phil Croaks at 99

With bated breath many Brits were waiting for the Duke to turn 100, but he skipped out early. So now the plaudits are flowing in everywhere, praising the man who preserved the English spirit and supported the Queen in perpetuity.

Here’s what Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Like the expert carriage driver that he was, he helped to steer the royal family and the monarchy so that it remains an institution indisputably vital to the balance and happiness of our national life.”

What a metaphor. You may remember that a couple of years ago the Duke injured two women in a crash and totaled his Land Rover (immediately replaced by another). He finally apologized and gave up his driver’s license after a major media outcry forced his hand. Noblesse oblige is not dead.

Many good things are now being said about Prince Philip. His stoicism could be stifling but his character was to persevere in the impossible role of Prince Consort. He really did exemplify some typically British traits, as Anthony Lane put it in an excellent tribute: “The Duke was clever, restless, resilient, brusque, hot-humored, at one with the deep ocean, and oddly unreadable: pretty much as we expect our gods to be.”

What strikes me most about the Duke is how condescending his quips and gaffes could be. Otto English called him “the bigoted family uncle who couldn’t be trusted in company. Famed for his gaffes, he evermore resembled the kind of character Sacha Baron Cohen might dream up, an exaggerated version of what a xenophobic member of the English aristocracy might be.”

The Washington Post has tracked some of his more egregious comments:

During a 1986 visit to China, he told a British student: “If you stay here much longer, you will go home with slitty eyes.”

To a driving instructor in Scotland in 1995, he said: “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?”

During a trip to Canada in 1976: “We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

To a group of female Labour Party lawmakers during a reception at Buckingham Palace: “Ah, so this is feminist corner then.”

When he met Nigeria’s president, who was wearing traditional robes, he declared: “You look like you are ready for bed.”

The Duke wasn’t just sneering. He seemed to favor a kind of native condescension that the Brits hadn’t seen since the days of Evelyn Waugh. Philip’s humor often had that edge.

There is very little of that in the U.S. Where are the honestly condescending put-downs? Our late-night comedians are a weak substitute. The only laughable substitute we have is Joe Manchin talking about bipartisanship, and he’s not funny.

The Boneheads, continued

It is no news that the United States is the land of the free and the home of the bonehead. We documented a few cases here. But last week saw them coming out of the ground like cicadas. The week’s news confirmed that the species is not confined to Congress.

Mainly, these are the people who refuse to take the vaccine. A recent poll found that 49% of Republican men wouldn’t take it. Some thought it was a scam; others claimed they had natural or God-given immunity.

“I just feel that God created us, made our bodies in such a wonderful way that we can pretty much do our own immunization,” [Ron] Holloway, 75, told The Guardian. “We’re equipped to do that in most cases. I just don’t see the need for it.”

This justification sounds like the Miami Beach partiers talking about their own immunity and their God-given right to stampede and go crazy. Another bonehead, Gov. Ron DeSantis, “has bragged that the state is an ‘oasis of freedom’ during the pandemic —and the stir-crazy are flocking to the state’s restriction-free beaches and nightlife.” De Santis, no stranger to dementia, is expected to run for president in 2024.

The spa murders in Atlanta, however, evidenced something beyond dementia. I found the only way to understand such actions was to reflect on how American culture has continued to generate one violent insanity after another. It is no wonder that we have produced a population of boneheads and misfits.

Yet it was Congress that set the pace last week. You had Sen. Rand Paul arguing about masks with Dr. Fauci. “If you have immunity, they’re theater,” Paul said. “If you already have immunity you’re wearing a mask to give comfort to others.” Fauci strongly disagreed, but it was like refuting the willful and repetitive ignorance of a moron.

Earlier, you had Sen. Ron Johnson claiming he felt no threat from the patriots who stormed the Capitol on January 6, but if it had been “Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.” Ron is thinking about retiring, not a bad idea. Then, in a hearing about violence toward Asian Americans, Rep. Chip Roy (R.-Tex.) defended the good old remedy of lynching to “take out the bad guys. . . . We need more justice and less thought policing.”

The Democrats were not exempt from making fools of themselves. We heard the continuing upside-down comments of Sen. Joe Manchin about the filibuster—first agreeing there might be a reason to restore the “talking filibuster,” then dismissing it. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, under heavy fire for repeated attempts at sexual harassment, claimed he had instituted laws to prevent sexual harassment in New York State. The New York Post encapsulated his defense: “Calm down, ladies. Let’s not get hysterical.”

And finally, we had the image of Biden stumbling and falling while hurrying up the stairs to Air Force One, eager to express youthful vigor, one presumes. Joe, I’ve got a few years on you and have learned never to take the stairs with abandon. Your youthful vigor can be expressed in how well you deal with China and Russia.

And what will the coming week bring?