Is bipartisanship dead in Washington, D.C?
It is perhaps an odd time to even be asking the question. This weekend, after all, is the moment to herald the new term of a reelected Democratic president, one whose November victory has seemed to bring no balm to the partisan rancor. Just ask the myriad Republicans who have skipped town rather than watch someone from the other side take the reins of the Oval Office yet again.
Still, such hopes remained on a springlike Sunday morning at Cafe Milano, the Washington power-broking dining spot turned over for the day for Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s bipartisan brunch, so that “Democrats and Republicans and their food tasters all sit down together,” as editor in chief Tina Brown put it, at a party where, for the moment at least, Obama consigliore David Axelrod could be spotted rubbing elbows with GOP pollster Frank Luntz, and the entrance of Colin Powell could be treated with as much enthusiasm as the open bar.
“I dream of a time when the spirit of this brunch carries across our capital city, and Democrats and Republicans treat each other with nobility and respect and the people’s business trumps pettiness, trumps backstabbing,” Brown continued.
Still, the morning’s hostess seemed to realize that such a vision was a distant dream, at least for the moment.
“If a star football player can have a mythical girlfriend, why can’t I have a mythical Congress?”
The question was put to Angus King, a newly elected senator from Maine who may embody Brown’s brunch hopes, as he forswore both parties this past November, winning election as an independent.
“Nobody has a corner on the truth or good ideas,” he said. “And the broader you can cast a net for good ideas, the better the result you will get. Each party represents about 20 to 30 percent of the country; there are about 40 percent unenrolled. So if you only focus on your party, you are eliminating two thirds of the good ideas and the talent pool. Doesn’t make sense.”
It was a day where even the biggest partisans tried to take a little of the edge off their party loyalty.
“I haven’t seen this many Republicans since my bar mitzvah!” proclaimed movie titan Harvey Weinstein, one of the event’s hosts. A fundraiser for the Obama campaign, Weinstein noted that he also campaigned for New York Republicans, including former governor George Pataki, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, and current mayor and former Republican Mike Bloomberg.
“And I would cross New York state lines for [New Jersey] Governor [Chris] Christie,” he said.
“The eagle needs both wings to fly,” agreed Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat and someone considered in the top tier of presidential contenders, after interrupting himself to watch as a nearby television showed Obama’s private inauguration (“Wow, the girls have really gotten tall,” he said while looking at the screen, referring to Obama daughters Malia and Sasha).
“I think people across the country want our country to work,” he continued. “To be effective, want our Congress to reach agreement on things like paying our bills and giving our kids more opportunities.”
Axelrod, sporting an upper lip free forever, he said, of his famous bushy mustache, reminded The Daily Beast that calls for more bipartisanship have always been with us.
“I know some Republicans who say, ‘Well, when Clinton was here, that was better. We liked that guy.’ And I say to them, ‘What are you talking about? You impeached him!’ So, you know, it’s been brewing for some time.”
Nearby stood Grover Norquist, who, as head of Americans for Tax Reform, has perhaps done more to encourage the parties in their no-compromise stance than anyone. His pledge, after all, had kept Republicans from voting for any kind of tax increase for two decades until a last-minute deal on revenue was reached this past December to keep the nation from plunging off the fiscal cliff.
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“Nonpartisanship is important to me,” he said, distinguishing his own views from the official line of the day. “There are a whole bunch of issues where people who are in both parties can get active and work together—immigration reform, civil-liberties issues. Bipasrtisan means you have to have one R and one D in the room, which the person the dictator of whether you are partisan.”
The point of public service, he wished to remind everyone, was to get done what you want to get done, not too try to find agreement.
“At the end of the day the reason you get involved in politics is to make the country a better place and have less insane laws and make government less destructive,” he said, although it should be noted that that is not why everyone gets involved in politics. “Now usually the Republicans have the right position on this stuff, but there are issues that fall between the cracks. The wrong approach is to say ‘Somebody is right and somebody is wrong, so let’s do something in the middle.’”