The Washington Post should have a special ethics rule for David Broder: he shouldn’t be allowed to meet anyone, ever, because he simply cannot write anything negative about anyone he has met who didn’t throw a punch at him. Today’s exemplar is the now-indicted senior senator from Alaska, Ted Stevens, who, according to Broder, was a selfless provider of pork to Alaska’s tired and poor. Oddly, though, there’s no record of Stevens having, say, doubled the size of some poor, tired slob’s house at no cost, whereas there’s a very solid record, reflected in an indictment, of Stevens receiving just that benefaction from some oil guy, the advancement of whose legislative interests seems to have been a hobby of the senator’s.
Broder says that Stevens and West Virgina’s Robert Byrd, from whom Stevens apparently sought consolation after learning of his indictment, are both old-school guys, famed for their pork-hunting skills, “who see it as their principal responsibility to help their chronically needy citizens obtain the federal largess that can spell the difference between subsistence and a decent living.” Never mind that even the Democratic Byrd, who retained his populist streak even after purging its racist component, has never shown any real interest in universal health care or a living minimum wage, the two measures that would do more than any other pair to bring comfort to the subsisting masses; if the pork Stevens brought home inadvertently helped a poor folk, he surely regarded it as a dollar stolen from his masters.
Somehow, incomprehensibly but inevitably, Stevens’s collegial snuffling on Byrd’s shoulder morphs into yet another call for bipartisanship from Broder. Stevens and Byrd are the old guard, whose political differences are at least smudged if not entirely blurred by their Christ-like ability to get along with one another. Broder mentions that Chuck Schumer, whose bipartisan instincts helped saddle us with the horridly effable Michael Mukasey as attorney general, thinks it barely possible that Democrats could take the nine seats necessary for a filibuster-proof majority in November. That would be nice for Democrats, Broder allows, but not as nice as if a new generation of Byrds and Stevenses, who could 40 years hence comfort one another across the aisle when their own indictments come down, were elected to make life easier for either McCain or Obama by not allowing Obama an unstoppable legislative force or not depriving McCain of an immovable legislative object.
What’s truly weird about Broder’s bipartisanship fetish is that it seems to have nothing to do with issues, only whether or not someone from both parties is invested in a piece of legislation regardless the merits. I would have said at one time that he seems to confuse anything other than moderate Republicanism, a niche which in practice no longer exists, with ideological extremism; now, though, I suspect he’d applaud the dissolution of Congress if enough members of both parties went along with it.
By way of example, Richard Nixon proposed a guaranteed income during his second term and actually got it passed with bipartisan support in the House before someone in the Senate killed it. Anyone proposing the same thing now would by default qualify in Broder’s mind as an extreme ideologue, since there are no Republicans (and damned few Democrats) of the sort who would vote for such a thing in this day and age.
The same bipartisan crowd who supported that measure stood ready to impeach Nixon for his actually extremist views, such as the legality of warrantless spying and the conception of a presidency above the law. An identical legislative response to those abuses now is seen as extreme; far from indicting the president and his managers, a bipartisan congressional majority is more or less happily holding the constitution down while the administration guts it, and are then using its entrails as the primary ingredient in an unholy legislative menudo.
Probably Broder is just senile, but I suppose there’s always a chance he’s a secret nihilist, in which case more power to him and his bipartisan crew of cotton ball-throwing anarchists.