There was much rejoicing yesterday as a bipartisan group of Senators allowed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to move through the Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Committee. That’s good, of course, but does it really matter. There is so much about all of this stuff that strikes me more as theater than anything else. The problem is that commentators treat it as though it were real. In this case, does anyone think this has a chance to pass through the Republican controlled House?
But I’m more interested in the word “bipartisan.” I know that technically, if 54 Democrats and 1 Republican vote for a bill, it is bipartisan. But doesn’t that give a bill a sheen of widespread acceptance that it really doesn’t deserve. The best example of this kind of thing is the immigration bill. I don’t anyone for a moment that anyone thought that calling it bipartisan was wrong. After all, it received 68 votes in the Senate. But that was just because all the Democrats and only 30% of the Republicans voted for it. And that was about as bipartisan a vote as we’ve seen in the last four years (other than the important legislative efforts to rename post offices).
So it was with the effort to bring ENDA out of committee. The vote was 15 to 7. That doesn’t sound that bad, of course. The problem is that the vote was heavily weighted toward the Democrats, all 12 of whom voted it out of committee. With the Republicans, it was 3 to 7. Again with the 30%! I’m beginning to think that any bill that would traditionally have received near unanimous support can get at most three out of ten Republicans. That means in the always more reasonable Senate, 30% of the Republicans are awful and evil but not completely useless. That leaves 70% who are awful and evil and useless.
When Obama first got into office he was very excited about the prospects of bipartisanship. Remember when he thought he could get 80 votes in the Senate for the ACA? (That would have been 50% of the Republicans.) Over time, he’s learned that such thinking was naive bullshit. But the press still wants to believe it. And they want to believe it in all kinds of ways. That’s why clear charlatans like Paul Ryan are held up as models: the Reasonable Republican! And just the same, the talk of bipartisanship is just another way of saying, “See: the Republican Party isn’t that bad.”
We’ve moved from a place where actual moderate Republicans would vote for reasonable bills to a place where pretend moderate Republicans will only vote on bills that are so conservative that most Democrats would have voted against them thirty years ago. And these bipartisan votes are heralded by those ostensibly on the left to argue that democracy continues to work. (This is like sitting in a car without an engine and saying, “See: it works; I can sit in it!”) What it usually means is simply that the Democrats have compromised so much that the slightly less nutty Republicans will support it. And then it’s off to the House to die!