Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bipartisan consensus -- or lack thereof

It seems that this is the week for Billings Blog and Montana Headlines to write about the other's posts.

Today, Mr. Crisp reports on the new ad from the governor touting their "bipartisan ticket." He correctly notes that the governor "has been working this line for four years, and Republicans still haven't found a way to react except by sounding pissy about it."

Fair enough -- hard to argue with either contention. But then Crisp goes on to say this:

But voters' desire for bipartisan consensus is real, and the GOP ignores it at its peril.

Point well taken. But proper responses to this statement include some pointed questions, first among which is this: On exactly what did the governor "work across party lines" (as the ad claims) in the last couple of legislative sessions? Montana Headlines was following it pretty closely, and if there were any significant bipartisan compromise solutions, they must have been done in the dead of night without the press watching.

Far from being engaged in bipartisanship, the governor has basically gotten everything he has wanted, and prevented any meaningful Republican legislation from passing.

Crisp is right that the Republican approach to the Lt. Gov. has been ineffective. There has been little creativity in dealing with the situation, but rather a bit too much public bitterness at the perceived betrayal. Showing anger or spite in public is a sign of weakness.

What creativity there has been has been too little -- or rather too much (wasn't the first suggestion an "invitation" to have Bohlinger endure 90 minutes of public grilling at the Republican Winter Kickoff?) -- or too late (such as inviting Bohlinger to debate Steve Daines at the Republican convention.)

Trying to play the "John Bohlinger isn't a real Republican" card was doomed to failure from the start in a state that doesn't even have voter registration by party and where about a third of voters (a significant majority of whom vote mostly Republican) consider themselves to be independent. It has played into the governor's hands by keeping the Republicans busy trying to chase a rabbit they really don't want to catch with a dog that won't hunt.

What Republicans have failed to do is to demonstrate what real compromise in Montana could have looked like over the last 4 years -- and then compare that vision to what actually did happen.

If there is a single thing that John Bohlinger has done that has had the effect of bringing Republican ideas into the current administration, its has been well hidden. If there is a single example of Bohlinger's presence in the administration affecting policy in a way that middle of the road Montana Republicans would recognize as reflecting their party's ideals, can we hear about it? And if there is a single example where the presence of the Lt. Gov. helped forge any sort of improved relations between Republicans and Democrats, it has escaped notice.

Bohlinger has not been a force for bipartisanship -- he has been a tool of a peculiar sort of triangulation, and a pretty useful one at that. The strategy has worked, and as with most triangulation, the goal is not bipartisanship -- it is the neutralization of the opposition in order to promote the triangulator. There is a difference.

It isn't easy to fight triangulation, but if Crisp is right that Montanans are hungry for "bipartisan consensus," then at least part of the answer for Republicans would have to lie in demonstrating that there is nothing bipartisan about the current administration -- and in articulating specific policies on which Republicans sought compromise from the governor, only to be rejected. It may even involve quietly reminding Democratic legislators that they received offers for discussion and compromise from Republican legislators -- but only marching orders from the governor's mansion.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I suppose Montanans do want to see bipartisan consensus, but I'm at a loss to think of any time this governor has brought any about. His forte has been aggravating Republicans, not working with them.

But perhaps Mr. Crisp could share some examples that others have missed.

But you know the real laffer he writes about is the earlier Schweitzer ad in which the governor says he has learned to do this: "Share the credit when you’re right. And take responsibility when you’re wrong."

Can anyone out there think of any examples of when the governor has ever done either one of these things?

In fact, he's quite adept at doing the opposite....taking credit for things he didn't do and passing off responsibility to others when things go wrong.

In many states, the press analyzes ads to determine if they are accurate or not. It would be nice if that were to happen in Montana, but I suspect this ones too hot to handle.

Anonymous said...

Hardly a surprise that lieutenant governors continue to play a less than meaningful role in any administration. Ask Karl Ohs, Judy Martz, Denny Rehberg, etc., etc. The drought advisory board is their purgatory.

Montana Headlines said...

It is true that the Lt. Gov. is often on the sidelines (although in the second half of the Martz administration, Karl Ohs played a very significant role.)

But the governor's ad says that the governor "couldn't have done it without" Bohlinger.

Given those claims, it is fair to ask what Bohlinger has actually done.

You don't think that the ad is just posturing and rhetoric, do you?

Anonymous said...

The Helena Associated Press worships the ground that the Governor walks on--don't ever expect them to offer critical or thoughtful analysis of anything the Governor does....

Anonymous said...

Gasp! You mean to suggest that television campaign ads are shallow? Who knew?

Anonymous said...

Karl Ohs influential? So influential that the Martz administration went away with its tail between its legs, without even attempting to win a second term. Why? Because a governor with a sub 20% favorability rating isn't going to compete, let alone win. So, the Republican Party went from a Racicot administration enjoying a 75% approval level to a complete flop (with Montanans) in the Martz administration, thereby bringing about a Democrat administration that will assuredly dominate for a full 8 years. A significance found in the Martz administration? Most significant is the rate at which the Republicans lost its dominance because of the Martz administration.

Anonymous said...

The reason the state GOP can't brand Bohlinger as not a Republican is that their own brand is so weak...and part of that is because Schweitzer has been so effective in co-opting their traditional issues, with the notable help of Republicans like Bohlinger and the log cabin gang. It's turned into a self-licking ice cream cone where Schweitzer takes a 'moderate' stance and 'moderate' Republicans hitch their wagon to it. Then, when his actions don't match his rhetoric the 'moderates' are already committed and can't distance themselves from him. And it's been caused by the party's inability to define itself and its representatives in conservative terms.

Montana Headlines said...

We've said it before and will say it again. As time passes, history will be increasingly kind to Gov. Martz. She was a politician who was not up to the hardball of Montana politics -- it is impossible to argue othewise. But when it came to policy and governance, she was a good governor.

The current occupant of the governor's mansion should thank God every day for both things -- that Martz was an inept politician and that she was a great governor who left him with a booming economy and bulging coffers.

In response to the last anonymous, I would disagree that moderate Republicans have been following the governor's lead and standing by him. I'd like to see some examples of what you are talking about.

It is an article of faith among many conservatives that the problem with the Montana GOP is that it isn't rigidly conservative enough. I disagree. Most of the things that have hurt the Montana GOP have involved doing stupid things that anyone who has passed Politics 101 should know to avoid.

The Montana GOP quite frankly got lazy. But in times like these, a different type of individual is rising to the top in the Republican party -- whether it is those running for legislative seats or statewide offices.

Anonymous said...

Montana politics is far from hardball politics. Please. It's a walk in the park compared to most states. The major media covering Martz left so many gaffes lie that that could have embarrassed Republicans even more than the few things they did report. And every time they did, she cried, "foul" or denied ever saying. Martz never missed an opportunity to spar over the slightest and sometimes imagined slights. Montana survived in spite of Judy Martz, certainly not because of her.

Montana Headlines said...

The only thing you've done is contend that Martz wasn't good at playing politics -- something we had already said. So you really haven't made a coherent or new point.

It's a good sign when the best that Democrats can do on a thread like this is to revisit the glory days of Martz-bashing, hoping that repeating the same old boring canards again and again will distract from the fact that the governor's "bipartisan" ticket is a sham.

Ed Kemmick said...

I want to say something meaningful, but I can't stop thinking of those log-cabin Republicans hitching their wagon to a self-licking ice cream cone.

Anonymous said...

What's your idea of "hardball politics?" You make unsubstantiated statements such as this and then attack when you're called on it. Then you change the subject. One also doesn't need to be a Democrat to appreciate the multitude of deficiencies in Judy Martz. Your favorite fall back when people disagree with you: call them Democrats whether you know it or not, as if that would somehow dismiss any argument you disagree with. When less than 20% of Montanans approved of Judy Martz's leadership, you can be sure that 80% who disapproved included many Republicans. And when a politician can't convince people to follow, it really doesn't matter what they have to say. A leader without anyone following really isn't a leader is she? BTW, you brought up the Martz administration, so if you'd rather avoid discussing her, I'd suggest not bringing her administration into the conversation.

Montana Headlines said...

Ed, those metaphors had me saying "hm" myself. If you can explain them to me, then perhaps we'll be on to something! Especially that self-licking ice-cream cone.

Anon -- now, now, calm down dear. I first note that you tried to give the impression that you weren't a Democrat while carefully choosing your words so you wouldn't have to deny your affiliation. Did you think that would somehow get missed in the rhetorical bluster? Tut, tut. But at least you're honest.

Former Lt. Gov. Ohs was indeed a force for stability and good sense in the Martz administration. That's what I said, and I stand by it. You tried to turn this thread into a referendum on the Martz administration (how 2004 is that?) and I refuse to play that game.

Take it back to Left in the West unless you have something new or useful (or at least erudite or amusing) to say.

Anonymous said...

Martz made many mistakes, but remember how the press were like pit bulls? There were constant stories and editorials attacking her. So of course her approval numbers sank. They sank lower than Bush's, and she didn't led us into war.

But how things have changed. The press is more like docile bulldogs. Rarely do we see articles that say anything about the current governor. Has the Gazette ever written an editorial critical about him? I can't remember any.

Isn't it odd that we have a public official that has a perfect record, who does things right 100 percent of the time? On the other hand, I suppose it shows we are making progress as a society if we no longer have a need for someone to provide a watchdog function. Can save on the cost of a subscription.