Pelosi was right to reject Jordan and Banks, who, as blood was still drying on the floor of the Capitol, voted to give the insurrectionists what so many of them wanted. At a deeper level, Pelosi’s actions here also constitute a crucial development: the rejection of bipartisanship as a positive force in US politics. The select committee will still be bipartisan — GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump for fomenting the insurrection, will still serve on it — but the notion that Democratic leaders must work with Republican leaders in order to have political legitimacy is well and truly dead.
As it should be. The fetish for bipartisanship has dominated Washington for at least 80 years. In that time, bipartisanship acquired a rosy glow: to label a policy bipartisan was to deem it both representative and virtuous, the byproduct of opposing sides compromising their way to the best possible solution. But on its own, bipartisanship has never been a virtue. It has been, at best, virtue-signaling — a legislative both-sidesism that has infected US politics for far too long.
In the 1940s and 1950s, with the threat of totalitarianism looming large in the American imagination, there was something particularly beneficial to politicians about championing bipartisanship. It showed voters (along with foreign leaders and allies abroad) that American lawmakers followed a standard higher than simple party interests. Compromise elevated them to the ranks of technocratic statesmen (they were nearly all men) who were unencumbered by devotion to party, who were instead dedicated to higher ideals and first principles.
If Republicans had discovered the power of withholding bipartisanship during the Obama era, Democrats slowly began to understand the limits of working with Republicans in the Trump era, a time when both the President and the party’s leadership in Congress proved unreliable dealmakers and craven partisans. But it was the insurrection that made it most clear: even though a handful of Republicans did cross the aisle to ratify the election, denounce the insurrection and impeach Trump a second time, the vast majority did not. How, then, could bipartisanship be a marker of good governance, if most of one party had just voted to overturn democracy?
The point here is not that politics has changed so dramatically that bipartisanship no longer matters. It’s that bipartisanship was never a metric for good politics, and by rejecting the Republican leaders’ conditions, Pelosi has acknowledged that, and opened the door for a franker assessment of political goods and political harms — while safeguarding the select committee from those who, with their votes against the election, supported the insurrection.
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