This is not a post about ideology. It’s a post about teamwork, and about how our system of government works, and – in a general sense – about the role of partisanship in politics. Let’s just get one thing out of the way first.

Hey, Republicans: you lost.

We now have a Democratic president, and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Rightly or wrongly, for good or ill, the people have chosen to support the vision espoused by the Democratic party and repudiate that espoused by the Republican party. Got it? No, of course not, and that’s why we’re having this conversation. The issue here is what it means when you lose an election like this. What is the responsibility of the party that won, and what is the responsibility of the party that lost? Here are some parts of the answer.

  • The losers do not have a right to make some percentage of the decisions, and obstruct decisions that are made if they don’t get their way.
  • The losers do not have a right to an equal role in the decision-making process.
  • The losers do have a right and responsibility to express their loyal opposition, with emphasis on loyal, when facing a policy with which they disagree.
  • The winners do have a right and a responsibility to ensure progress, over the objections of the losers if need be.
  • The winners do have a responsibility to listen and seriously consider the losers’ viewpoint, and respect that it represents some subset of the electorate.

Bush was rarely criticized by his own supporters for not doing enough to accommodate his political opponents, and would certainly not have accepted (let alone acted upon) such criticism. The very idea seems alien, even risible. Why, then, are so many people on both left and right demanding that Obama accomodate his political opponents? Why does “bipartisanship” always seem to involve concessions made by the left to the right, no matter who’s in charge? Nuts to that. The debate should occur, the separate viewpoints should be expressed and considered, then the vote should be taken and tallied. Done. No whining or handwringing allowed. As we on the left have been told ad nauseam, get over it and move on. Politics is all about disagreement. Political systems are all about how to handle that disagreement, in the inevitable cases where there is no consensus. Our political system has established rules for how to resolve such situations, and those rules are adequate without demanding any sort of extra-constitutional consideration for the wishes of a minority party. If you want more consideration, get more votes.

Yes, Obama and the other Democratic leaders have a responsibility here to recognize that they are not governing alone, but the part that seems to be most lacking is recognition on the right that they are now the junior partner in this enterprise. They can stop pretending they’re a majority, or even equal. Until they accept their role, and that it means they must persuade instead of demanding to get their way, and learn how to do that, then they will be the ones guilty of destroying any bipartisan or post-partisan spirit in Washington. As Obama said, in a different context but nonetheless applicable here:

We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Come on. Unclench. We know you can do it.