All of this talk about "bipartisanship," "working together," and "reaching across the aisle" has made me want to reach for my airsick bag, except that the chances of such nonsense actually occurring in in inverse proportion to the rhetoric of the moment. Remember the old joke: there are two parties in America--the Stupid Party and the Evil Party. And when the two parties get together and do somethine really stupid and evil, its called "bipartisanship." Whats going on right now is fairly understandable: a chastened Bush, and emboldened Democrats, are talking nice to get pole position with the public. Not to worry; they wont be singing Kumbaya for very long.
Lets offer here not one, not two, but three cheers for partisanship. While partisanship often manifests itself in unlovely and thoughtless ways, it does represent a division, as old as Hamiltons feud with Jefferson at least, between two coherent philosophical camps in modern politics. Take prescription drug pricing: Democrats sincerely believe in the benevolent exercise of government power to regulate drug prices. Republicans just as sincerely believe that bureaucratically-controlled drug prices will distort the market in important and unwelcome ways over time. (Tie-breaker goes to that great cognitive dissonant, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who I heard say at a dinner back in 2000 that drug price controls were essential to containing health care costs, but that once we did so, "Wed better hope the Swiss pharmaceutical industry stays healthy." He, at least, was one Democrat who was clear that drug price contols will exact a cost in innovation.)
The point is, the partisanship of serious differences should be celebrated. If nothing else, they permit accountability. Everyone knows tax cuts are a Republican idea. If we dont like them, we know who to blame, and who to turn to to fix it. Let the debates begin.
Predictions. Another issue like drug pricing is trade. A number of people have been predicting a rise of protectionism coming. Perhaps. Yesterday I spoke with a very very smart economist who calls the macro shots for one of the more successful hedge funds in New York, and he mentioned a prospect I havent heard anywhere else: Watch for a Democratic attack on the Federal Reserve six months down the road, especially if housing prices are still sliding or stagnant. It has happened before (see: 1982, when Reagan stood up to both parties attacks on Paul Volcker on Capitol Hill). Over the last few years, the Republican Congress has been assailing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which tend to be Democratic sinecures as well as the embodiment of Democratic economic policy ideas. The Fed is an outpost more of Republican economic policy, and as such a juicy target for populist liberals, who dont like big banks and finance much anyway.
File this one away for the spring.