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Ken Adelman
Political advisor

Ken Adelman

A Reagan-era Ambassador and Arms Control Director, Ken Adelman is co-founder and vice-president of Movers and Shakespeares, which offers executive training and leadership development.

Bipartisanship is overrated

Bipartisanship is widely overvalued and grossly over-praised. Politicians and pundits mistakenly deem it the 11th Commandment from On High.

Granted, a leader should weigh key issues on their merits. That's where Joe Lieberman's conduct is indefensible. His somersault on Medicare -- without explanation, without, it seems, realizing that what he fervently opposes now he fervently supported before - is wrong. Add his gloating over becoming the big obstacle to health-care reform, and you know why he turns folks barking mad (as the Brits say).

On bipartisanship, what's there to object to? Surely not to the civility it bring politics. That's badly needed now, as always in the American system.

Rather, it's the premise of bipartisanship that's faulty - namely, that there's one right answer to health care, deficit reduction, or whatever. That if only these politicians would heed "real experts" at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government or the Council on Foreign Relations, then all would hold hands in a circle around The Right Solution.

There's no such thing. Unlike business -- where profits determine success -- in government, there's no one standard of measure. Values differ widely, and applying those value differ widely.

This is evident in literature. Just contrast Hamlet with Raskolnikov, the (anti-) hero of Crime and Punishment. Hamlet knows the right thing to do but can't make himself do it, while Raskolnikov doesn't know what's right to do.

Moreover, bipartisan decisions sometimes turn out to be wrong. They're unexamined since they're relatively unchallenged. Widespread public agreement -- i.e. bipartisan votes in Congress -- to enter both the Vietnam war and the Iraq war turned out badly.

This is no coincidence. For partisanship serves a noble purposes. Our system of justice relies on the adversarial system - two sides contending over what's right to do, and how to do right. No one advocates bi-partisanship in the courtroom.

Similarly, huge taffy-tug public policies like health care seem messy primarily because they are messy! But any outcome is subject to the most careful scrutiny and defense.

By Ken Adelman

 |  December 21, 2009; 3:13 PM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Both partisanship and bipartisonship have a role to play in our political system. I do not agree that the premise of bipartisanship is no debate. Nor does it mean that its solution is the one "right" solution. Bipartisanship, I believe, means seeking a solution, through partisan debate, that a significant part of both sides can agree upon, to make the majority. Bipartisanship is not alone in making mistakes.

Ultimately, I believe real bipartisanship is making an honest, full effort to bring many from both sides into agreement. Call it the art of compromise, if you wish. Unfortunately, this Administration has made the mistake, probably due to lack of experience, of turning the two biggest pieces of legislation of this year - ARRA and health care - over to the most partisan organization in our government, the US House. Speaker Pelosi and much of the Democratic House leadership had absolutely no interest in seeking some kind of bipartisan solution. Senator Baucus made at least some effort.

Posted by: marlendale | December 22, 2009 2:28 PM
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I am offering a defense for Adelman - sort of.

There is nothing shameful about being wrong, all of us have wrong one time or another. What is shameful is to continue lecturing to the crowd after being wrong without full disclosure. Not to mention pretendig to train "leadership".

Posted by: steviana | December 21, 2009 7:06 PM
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Ken Adelman, former U.N. ambassador, in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post, Feb. 13, 2002:

"I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps.

NOTE: Has any man been more wrong about something so important to the United States?

Kenneth Adelman, a man whose opinion, as evidenced by his words in this very publication seven years ago, is totally and completely devoid of meaning and value.

Have you no shame, Mr. Adelman? Have you no shame?

Posted by: MarkinJC | December 21, 2009 4:59 PM
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