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Bipartisanship Put to Test in Light of Political Realities

When the stimulus bill was passed with no Republican votes in the House and little GOP support in the Senate, questions arose on the state of bipartisan ties with the new Obama administration. Historians give their perspectives on how bipartisanship fares in times of crisis.

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    When the stimulus bill passed Congress last week with no Republican votes in the House and just three in the Senate, the description of President Obama's victory was offset by much commentary about the lack of bipartisan support.

    But what does history say about a president's ability to get bipartisan votes at momentous times like this? Here to give us some answers are Ellen Fitzpatrick, professor of history at the University of New Hampshire, and James Morone, professor of political science at Brown University.

    And welcome to you both.

    Professor Morone, you wrote an op-ed in the New York Times today in which you say, "Bipartisan dreams have been crashing into political reality since the earliest days of the republic." Has it really been that bad?

  • JAMES MORONE, Brown University:

    Yes, it has been. I think the first thing we have to remember is that there's no golden age of bipartisanship that we've lapsed from. We've always muddled through, but often with partisan battles.

    Just one quick example. George Washington read the Constitution his first months in office, and he learned that he should get advice from the Senate. So he dropped into the Senate to get advice and consent on a treaty. Well, the senators got so agitated they began to argue about what [inaudible due to technical problems]. They argued, and then they broke into sides, pro-French, pro-English, and Washington cooled his heels and got angrier and angrier and finally walked out with an air of sullen dignity, as one observer put it.

    And since that day, the Senate has consented but not given advice on foreign policy, so partisanship all the way back.