Friday, February 5, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Bipartisanship in Peril

When I think of the rapidly disappearing American tradition of bipartisanship, I think first of my high school history teacher, Mr. Karl.

History was by far my favorite subject, full of intrigue, back-stabbing and partisan strife seemingly worlds away from what I saw as the intolerably dull, peaceful suburban American existence of my young adulthood. So it was with great relish that I sat through Mr. Karl’s lectures, focusing on centuries of bloody squabbling over hereditary rights, religion and ideas on a divided European continent.

But America, he told us, was a different story.

Far from clinging madly to the outdated ideologies of the Old World, our republic had always sought to find common solutions for common problems, he said.

And Mr. Karl was right: save for four years of Civil War, America has found a way to survive in times of crisis, guiding itself through dozens of economic recessions, a Depression, racial strife and two world wars.

Flash forward to today’s divided and entrenched political landscape, seemingly content to “sleeping dogs lie” as a sputtering economy continues to wreak havoc across the national and regional economy.

While Democrats and Republicans continue to squabble, access to credit remains a luxury for those businesses that don’t need it, healthcare inflation costs continue to spiral and 20,000 jobs were lost in an economy that has shed a total of 8.5 million positions, according to January numbers released by the federal government today.

In the latest sign of this deep partisan divide, Republican Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby this week blocked the appointment of as many as 70 appointees to crucial federal posts because of a rejected earmark request – an act bad enough by itself, but for the fact that Democrats tried similar tactics while in the minority during former President George W. Bush’s term.

The erosion of this spirit of bipartisanship has been so complete, I almost did a double take during Thursday’s State of the Port address when Port of Vancouver executive director Larry Paulson thanked both Presidents Bush and (gasp) Barack Obama for funding the Columbia River Deepening Project – essential for regional economic development and financed through both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Paulson’s remarks are a reminder that in tough economic times we need to focus on results, not political gamesmanship if we are truly to emerge from this recession stronger, more flexible and prosperous than before.

As Mr. Karl would say, the time is not one to retreat into the –isms of the right and the left, but instead should be an opportunity to revisit our guiding American political philosophy, best boiled down to two words: Just business.