The End of Bipartisanship

President Obama signs the health care bill on Tuesday. Photo: Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images.

The End of Bipartisanship

If you listen to the Republican talking heads on cable news, bipartisanship just died. But the end of bipartisanship wasn’t last Sunday, or last week, or last month, or even last year. It was in 1991.

“In the spring of 1991, more than a year before the Democrats nominated Clinton, [House minority leader Newt] Gingrich was discussing long-term political strategy with a friend as they strolled around the Washington Monument at about six o’clock one morning. In a moment that he recalled vividly, Gingrich was seized by the conviction that the ‘next great offensive of the Left,’ as he put it, would be ‘socializing health care,’ because the Left, as he put it, was ‘gradually losing power on all other fronts, and they had to have an increase in the resources they controlled. We had to position ourselves in the fight before they got there or they might win….’

“Killing the Clinton reform was a critical means to achieving [control of Congress]. Had any part of the Clinton plan passed that Congress in any form, Gingrich and his closest conservative allies believed, their dreams for forging a militantly conservative future would ‘have been cooked,’ as a key Gingrich strategist later explained.”

— Haynes Johnson & David S. Broder, The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point. Little, Brown, 1996.

In other words, Gingrich decided he was against the Clinton health care plan in 1991 — more than two years before he knew what it would contain, and 18 months before Clinton even became president.  He foresaw that Clinton would be elected, that he would try to put forward a plan for reforming health care, and that, if passed, it would be popular enough to derail for years his goal of Republican control of government.  And he set himself to defeat it on that day, whatever its actual policies, because of partisan politics.

So Newt, please don’t whine to us that Obama should have been more bipartisan.  You closed the door on that option nineteen years ago.

–John Unger Zussman