It's a beautiful word. It evokes images of former political foes kissing one another on their pudgy cheeks, after which they march off in lockstep toward their universal goal of improving the lives of every citizen, young and old, rich and poor, stupid and smart.
But not too smart.
Because those who make the mistake of raising reasoned objections to the path of the bipartisan parade have a tendency to get trampled.
Bipartisanship is the norm in many places. Although in China, they call it the dictatorship of the proletariat. In Saudi Arabia, they call it God's will. And in Portland, they call it "Up against the wall, Green Independent mothers."
As demonstrated by the plight of dissidents in those places, bipartisanship is about going along with the conventional wisdom as dictated by the powers that be. Bipartisanship has nothing to do with principled opposition on the grounds of legal, moral, ethical, scientific, traditional, or even satirical concerns.
Bipartisanship is not to be disparaged. It is not to be ridiculed. It is not to be made the punch line of a columnist's joke.
It is to be venerated. And, above all, obeyed.
In her December 3 inaugural speech as president of the Maine Senate, Democrat Libby Mitchell of Vassalboro laid down the rules for bipartisan discourse in the upcoming session. "Unfortunately," she told the assembled senators, "too many lobbyists, state leaders, and pundits have taken to trashing Maine in order to advance their narrow agenda. A cottage industry has sprung up in many corners to proclaim the bad news about all things Maine."
Given these marching orders from Mao — I mean Mitchell — it appears that for the foreseeable future, we won't be talking about the state's high taxes, low incomes, rising unemployment, shrinking industrial base, and the wretched University of Maine women's basketball team. We must find more appropriate topics of conversation than how one in every seven people in the state is receiving federal assistance to buy food or how nearly 300,000 Mainers qualify for Medicaid or how 57 percent of Maine high school students aren't proficient enough in math to tell if I'm making up all these numbers.
Unfortunately, I'm not.
Nor am I imagining what a disaster for dissenters — and most everybody else — bipartisanship will be. Here's the problem:
Democrats like Mitchell don't really believe Maine state government is too big, too expensive, and too inefficient. They don't believe that entire programs — and not just small ones nobody ever heard of — will have to be eliminated in order to cover an $850 million shortfall in the next biennial budget. And they don't believe that tax increases are off the table, no matter what the common folk clearly demonstrated with last month's landslide vote to repeal the beverage tax.
The Dems' definition of bipartisan behavior calls for Republican legislators to shut up and accept tax and fee hikes, modest cuts that will result in few real savings, and as many fiscal gimmicks as the gullible masses will buy. Which, based on previous budgets, is quite a lot.
The GOP, on the other hand, doesn't really believe it can accomplish anything this session, given its puny legislative numbers. House Minority Leader Joshua Tardy and Senate Republican honcho Kevin Raye don't plan to waste a lot of energy protesting the Democrats' spending plans and proposing more sensible alternatives, because nothing Republicans come up with is going to pass, anyway. They hope that if they hunker down and don't whine too much, they can win the next election, because voters are always attracted to ineffectual wimps.
The GOP's definition of bipartisan behavior is to let the Democrats do whatever they want, and then blame them for it afterwards. And while the Republicans are waiting around for the majority party to decide everything important, they'll have plenty of time to engage in pointless battles over social issues, such as whether minors should be allowed to obtain birth control without parental permission or whether same-sex couples should be permitted to marry or whether the right to bear arms includes the right to shoot oneself in the foot.
Rather than endure this bipartisan sham over the next six months, I'd prefer a more straightforward approach. Let both sides present clear and comprehensive plans for dealing with the state's financial crisis. Let Democrats and Republicans debate the merits of their proposed solutions. Let the public weigh in with its opinions, which (in an ironic bipartisan twist) will be universally ignored.
In the end, let one party seize the other by the throat and throttle it into accepting some sort of budgetary agreement. Let somebody win and somebody else lose.
Let the more violent parts of this process be broadcast on pay-per-view television. The proceeds would probably cover the budget shortfall.
If you don't bi — I mean, buy — my argument, e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org.