The Common Good

Silly vs. Noble Bipartisanship: the Gerson-Wallis Example

Source: Beliefnet
Date: February 18, 2009

If you spend too much time reading political blogs, you'd come to think that the word "bipartisanship" is has the same Q ratings as "pedophilia" or "octuplets." In fact, the one thing that activists of left and right agree on is that bi-partisanship is the province of the weak and amoral.

Very often bipartisanship is cast as -- and occasionally actually is -- the melding of two disparate-but-coherent positions into one unified-but-incoherent view. Politically, activists hate it because it means sacrificing a principle and potentially a weopon to clobber the enemy.

But spend enough time in the policy world and you come to realize that some sensible policy positions are not inherently ideological; they become ideological by dint of who proposed it first and who (therefore) opposed it first. They're not born ideological by nature; they become ideological through nurture. For instance, national service, involves solving problems through "service to nation" rather than handouts to the poor -- a seemingly conservative idea (and indeed william F. Buckley was a big champion). But because Kennedy and Clinton proposed it first, it became "conservative" to oppose it.

If you can strip away the political barnacles to reveal the pure idea beneath, you've served a real public purpose. That is good bipartisanship.

I think we may have just seen an example of this in a new group formed by Michael J. Gerson, President George W. Bush's chief speechwriter, and Jim Wallis, the progressive evangelical leader. They pulled together a collection of seriously divergent policymakers -- many motivated by the Biblical injunction to help the poor -- locked them in rooms and told them not to come out until they'd agreed on something.

What came out is a set of actual policy proposals and a strange-bedfellows group -- The Poverty Forum -- to reduce poverty.

For instance, liberal evangelical Ron Sider, and Chuck Donovan, Executive Vice President, Family Research Council, agreed that poverty could be helped by child tax credits AND raising the minimum wage. Even with the caveat that Donovan was speaking as a mere individual and not head of FRC, that's quite a statement.

Most of these ideas are shrewd, albeit stunningly wonky. ("Establish a Lead National Organization (LNO) to Provide Technical Assistance to CESIG")

I'm particularly fond of the government giving every person at birth $500 to create IRA-type savings accounts, that could be built over years and used for education or home purchases after the person is 18.

If you're well-caffeinated, read them all here. If you'd like to sign a petition endorsing the general approach, go here. But in the meantime, a congratulations to this crew of fearless faith-based foes who spent the time stomaching each other for the public good.