Why Don’t We See More Bipartisanship?

Some of us look back through our gauzy memories and remember President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill working together to solve the nation’s challenges. As Nina Totenberg on NPR reminded us today, they were fierce partisans with differing views of the role of government. But Totenberg says, they each had respect for the co-equal branch and institutional place of the other. That seems lacking today.

And that reminded me of a very good post the other day at Mischiefs of Faction, Why don’t politicians cross party lines more often? Professor Seth Masket says that parties bedevil leaders who cross lines and gives the example of Wendell Willkie in 1940. Willkie ran a fierce campaign against FDR but after his defeat aligned himself with the president in the face of the growing menace from Hitler. Professor Masket links to a piece  in the New York Times by Susan Dunn and offers this quote from Professor Dunn:

Newspaper columnists and editorial boards showered Willkie with praise, but the Republican “old guard” did not. Instead, it set out to destroy his influence. At the party’s 1944 convention, Willkie was not permitted to address the delegates. He died that October, a lone wolf who had paid a steep price for cooperating with F.D.R.

To that end the photographs of President Barack Obama and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey collaborating on relief efforts in New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy are notable. Governor Christie offered praise of the president’s response to the crisis. We might think of that as government working as it should. But Governor Christie may find his recognition of the president’s efforts will count against him if he decides to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

 

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts. Professor Cunningham is a regular contributor to the online magazine CommonwealthMagazine.org. He is a former assistant district attorney and assistant attorney general in Massachusetts. Professor Cunningham is a lifelong resident of Massachusetts. He earned his BA at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, his JD at New England School of Law, and PhD at Boston College. He lives in Cambridge with his wife and two children.
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