Bipartisanship, Good and Bad

My column for the mag coming out this week points out the inherent tension between Obama’s twin themes of Change and Unity, and praises the president for knowing which one to ditch. I’m not a fan of bipartisanship ( and its many kissing cousins — postpartisanship, consensus, pragmatism, centrism, Third Wayism, radical-middlism, etc.), and while I’m glad I didn’t see Matt Bai’s nice piece on Obama’s understanding of bipartisanship until after I filed,  I agree entirely with Bai that Obama has kept what is worthwhile about it.

As Bai argues, for Obama, bipartisanship is not about getting votes from members of the other party, it isn’t about consensus for the sake of appearances. Rather, it is about cultivating a certain political culture that respects reasonable disagreement:

During the closing weeks of the fall campaign, Obama told me that bridging the cultural chasm in America would require of him, as president, a governing style that acknowledged differences rather than exploited them. This is why he intends to keep Republican leaders on speed dial, even if they vote against him — in doing so, he demonstrates to the voters that he will not be dragged into the pettiness and derision that have caused so many of them to lose faith in their government. He may also, over time, accumulate enough goodwill to wrangle Republican votes when he really does need them.

Tactical bipartisanship, in other words, a means to necessary ends, but not an end in itself.