One of the ironies of the campaign is how the Republican ticket has assigned itself the role of bipartisan compromisers and painted its opponents as shrill ideologues trying to push a big-government agenda down the throats of a resistant people. This message was reinforced by last night’s debate, as Joe Biden, eager to rescue his party from the charges of lethargy leveled by angry Democrats, came out with his eyeballs rolling. His aim was to pump some vigor back into the base and to establish clear differences between the two platforms.
But this image of Democratic intransigence and Republican bipartisanship simply defies recent history. Bill Clinton may now be the GOP’s favorite Democrat, but Republican lawmakers reviled him during his presidency. Indeed, they impeached him. Clinton’s great sin in their eyes was that he effectively adopted some of their positions, including demanding a balanced budget, pushing for free trade, and declaring, “the era of big government is over.” Yet the budget that set it all rolling was passed by one vote – and Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, who cast that vote, was turned out with 33 other Democrats in the Republican landslide the following year.
It was George Bush and, particularly, Dick Cheney who declared that bipartisanship was for wimps and minorities were losers. In 2008, Barack Obama’s plea to Americans to come together across the old partisan, racial and economic divides was the defining message of his candidacy. Republicans have not only fought him every step of the way, they have made “principled” intransigence their signature issue.
Or at least they had until Tip O’Neill became their second-favorite Democrat.