Sen. Bob Graham (whom, I should note, I like a lot for being wise enough to vote against the Iraq War resolution on the grounds that it would distract us from fighting Al Qaeda) is the author of the assinine piece in the Washington Post.
Here are his "steps" to fixing partisan gridlock, followed by a dose of reality:
-"Each presidential nominee should commit to appointing a truly bipartisan Cabinet that would include the most qualified people available, regardless of their party affiliation."
Unlike say, running FEMA, many cabinet positions aren't just about technical competence. A president should reasonably expect his or her cabinet will be made up of people who agree with his values and policy prescriptions. Should Hillary Clinton appoint an HHS secretary who doesn't believe in national healthcare? Should John McCain name a defense secretary who's against the Iraq War? The best they could do is moderates from the other party for some posts, and that won't make the hard core partisans feel better. I recall that Bill Clinton appointed a moderate Republican as his defense secretary and that didn't exactly make the late '90s a bipartisan panacea.
-"we would also press both major-party nominees to lay out specific strategies for reducing polarization and reaching bipartisan consensus on our agenda of national challenges."
Reduce partisanship by forcing candidates to describe how they would reduce partisanship. Brilliant!
-"Congress must restore and modernize the campaign finance reforms enacted after Watergate."
A fine idea, though how does this reduce partisanship? Doesn't that have to do with reducing favors owed to special interests?
-"The media must insist that future presidential debates each focus on a single issue."
Also a fine idea. And also nothing to do with reducing partisanship.
-Political parties must fundamentally reform the dysfunctional presidential primary system.
An excellent idea. But, ummmm, see my response to the last two. Are Iowa and New Hampshire voters more partisan than other states?
-"Our citizens must be educated to use their powers for effective participation in the political process."
You probably think I made that one up. But no. An ex-senator really wrote that.
Compare that to Ezra Klein's much more astute diagnosis in the L.A. Times this past Sunday, which directly takes on "fairy tale" (to borrow a phrase from someone who's been an ass recently) analyses like that of Sen. Graham:
Gridlock is not something the president of the United States can solve.... It happens live on C-SPAN every day of the week. It's a function of the rules of the Senate, where 40 senators can refuse to end debate on legislation and thus doom its chances of passage. Because of the undemocratic nature of the Senate, which gives Montana as many senators as California, those 40 senators can represent as little as 11.2% of the population.
But it's not up to the president. There are a variety of fixes for a filibuster-happy minority. The media, for example, could start accurately reporting the cause of the gridlock, shaming the relevant senators and increasing political pressure to compromise. The voters could eject politicians who refuse to compromise, laying down an electorally enforced preference for a functioning government. The Senate majority could change the rules, essentially eliminating the filibuster. Groups such as Unity '08 could arise and, rather than wasting everyone's time with idle fantasies of ever more dreamy executives, could campaign against Senate rules that are undemocratic and hostile to progress.
Klein hits the nail right on the head. Sure, a less partisan president than George W. Bush should be nice. But so long as a determined minority can have their way in the senate, how can we possibly expect there to be no gridlock?
My only gripe with Klein's analysis is that eliminating the filibuster doesn't really fix the problem. Sure, senators representing 11.2% of the population couldn't block legislation. But since you would only need 51 senators, instead of 60, to pass a bill, an even smaller minority than it takes now could pass deeply unpopular legislation.
The solution, obviously, is to fundamentally transform the senate some it better represents population. The fact that California gets as many senators as Wyoming is deeply offensive to the principle of one person, one vote. Obviously that's unlikely to ever happen, but it sure would be a better use of Unity '08's time and money than trying to elect a moderate Democrat just because he labels himself an independent.