The concept of bipartisanship is idealistic at best and self-sabotaging at worst. Time and again, we continue to see attempts at bipartisanship fail—Republicans offer a strong finger-wagging at their party’s inhumanity while sidling back beside them a moment later, as Democrats offer pretty words only to fail their own constituents at the next vote. And even when the two parties do manage to come up with a compromise, it’s never an effective substitute for actual political change.
And yet, despite being journalists and knowing that people’s livelihoods—affected by spineless concessions on DACA, Medicare for All, and climate change policy—are put at risk in the name of bipartisanship, Politico just cannot shake off that warm, fuzzy feeling that a photo op of a Democrat and Republican shaking hands brings.
On Friday, the website published their most “Heartwarming bipartisan moments in a polarizing 2018,” reminding readers that no matter how many federal employees are currently having to hand in governmental IOUs to their landlords because of President Donald Trump, he’s still an OK guy because he only waited through 13 months of natural disasters to finally visit California.
Truly, the bar is on the ground for their roundup of the year’s favorite concessions and back-pats from one party to the other: The time that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi didn’t frown at Arizona Sen. John McCain’s grave, despite him being the most “bipartisan” Republican senator of them all; When House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. John Lewis shook hands at the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination; And when George W. Bush returned the favor from McCain’s funeral and handed Michelle Obama a piece of candy.
It’s notable that none of these moments are actually examples of bipartisanship, but rather normal human interactions involving common courtesy.
And then we get into the real partisan nonpartisan stuff—Politico’s favorite instances of bipartisanship that, uhh, show why this never works. In April, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware voted “present” in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on the nomination of then-CIA director Mike Pompeo—an avowed homophobe—to be the Secretary of State. But then, Coons switched his “no” to “present,” allowing Pompeo to advance. Why? Because Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, another member of the committee, was at his best friend’s funeral.
Politico implied in this silly list that Coons had to change his vote in order to speed up the committee’s approval so that Isakson could attend the funeral and deliver the eulogy. That, however, is not what happened. Instead, he changed his vote so that Isakson didn’t have to come to D.C. to deliver his vote after the funeral. Here’s USA Today’s reporting at the time of the vote, emphasis mine:
Isakson called Coons and asked for help after delivering the eulogy for his friend. Senators were at an impasse and Republicans needed Isakson’s vote to break a tie, but Senate rules only allow votes from those present in the room to be counted in the official tally.
“If this small gesture of kindness helped ease Johnny’s very hard day, then I was grateful for the chance to do that,” Coons told USA TODAY on Tuesday.
When Coons’ father died last year, Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota offered to pair with Coons on a vote, so that he could be with his family. Coons said he was paying that gesture forward.
“That had a very big impact on me,” Coons said. “I was very grateful for his gesture, so I’m simply trying to show some small measure of kindness comparable to what Sen. Rounds showed to me.”
Just to reiterate, this was a vote to determine whether or not the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be the top diplomat in the country should move forward.
The one actual “bipartisan” thing on the list is the First Step Act, the criminal justice reform bill which was signed into law last week by Trump. But as we’ve noted, the law is a huge giveaway to private prisons and its impacts have been vastly overstated, because all of the things that could make the biggest impact—ending cash bail, ending arrests and incarceration at the federal level for cannabis-related offenses, taking aim at private prisons, etc.—are all political landmines that Republicans (and even some conservative Democrats) wouldn’t support. Just another reason why politicians “working across the aisle” is no substitute for obtaining and wielding real political power.