Republican politicians "won" this Sunday's talkfest debate over the stimulus package because they succeeded in redefining the word "bipartisan."
To wit: Despite a president who has appointed three Republicans to his cabinet, who reached out specifically to Republican lawmakers not once but several times, and who backed compromise efforts that gave Republicans several things they wanted in the House bill, the Democrats were to blame for the "partisan" nature of that package.
Why? Because Republicans weren't included in development of the bill. Because Speaker Pelosi wrote procedural rules that were restrictive. Because the compromises offered to GOP members weren't substantial enough to reflect their fundamental priorities.
Shorter GOP message: The Democrats offered the illusion of bipartisanship, but it was all stage dressing.
Which sounds logical. We've all seen dog-and-pony shows before. And the Democrats on the Sunday rounds did a poor job of rebutting this point.
Here's what they should have said:
In that context, bipartisanship means that Republicans can expect to be consulted. They can expect to win some small compromises on the content, if not the philosophical thrust, of the major economic pieces this administration seeks to put in place.
That's not the same thing as 2005, when Republicans ruled both houses and the White House and their Senate leadership openly debated using "the nuclear option" to shut down Democratic dissenters. It's not the same thing as 1995, when Newt Gingrich invented a hyper-partisan form of legislative leadership behind the mandate of his 1994 Republican Revolution. There was no discussion of bipartisanship in those instances, because the Republicans don't believe in it.
Bipartisanship in the context of a big Democratic victory in the wake of a disastrous Republican era gets you respect, consultation and a willingness to compromise on relatively small points. But it doesn't mean that you get to pass what amount to Republican bills, and ultimately that's what the Sunday Republicans were claiming: The Democrats weren't acting in true bipartisan spirit, because they weren't letting the GOP pass its philosophical agenda. You've got to admire the cojones of these guys.
If the American people wanted corporate tax cuts, income tax cuts for the wealthy and a capital gains windfall for the upper class, they would have elected Republicans. Yet there was old hyper-partisan warhorse Newt Gingrich, still running for president, claiming that anything less than Democratic capitulation is somehow a disingenuous partisan ploy.
The point of Obama's post-partisan message isn't really votes. He'll have 59 votes once Al Franken gets seated, and peeling off one of the Republican senators from Maine on major bills isn't that big of a trick. Instead, the president is trying to build something that would generate more confidence among the public. It's about statesmanship, not politics.
Rush Limbaugh didn't wait a week to tell the world he was pulling for Obama to fail. Capital Hill Republicans waited until last week to reveal a similar strategy: Say no to everything, play the victim, hope for the worst, blame everything on the Democrats and bet the farm on big wins in the 2010 mid-terms.
Sorry folks. Modern Republicans shouldn't be allowed to lecture anybody on bipartisanship. They literally don't know the meaning of the word.