GOP More to Blame for Partisanship

Mark Leibovich's story on the history of Washington partisanship failed to mention the left's attacks on Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, while hinting that Republicans might shoulder a bigger share of the blame than Democrats.

Like his colleague Peter Baker did when he trod similar ground, Mark Leibovich's Sunday Week in Review cover story decrying partisanship, "Play Nice - Looking for Peace, love and manners in Washington," failed to bring up the liberal assault on Republican Supreme Court nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. Leibovich's purported "pox on both your houses" history ignored the fact that from a GOP perspective, the bloody partisanship began not with Clinton's impeachment in 1998 but in 1987. That year saw the vicious Supreme Court hearings for Reagan's failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, followed in 1991 by hearings for the first President Bush's Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Leibovich's story mentioned neither Bork nor Thomas, while hinting that Republicans might shoulder a bigger share of the blame than Democrats:

In all likelihood, Barack Obama's inaugural speech next week will include some version of the "let's be nice and all work together" riff. Presidents typically kick off their terms with calls for greater civility and cooperation - and a parallel acknowledgment that (sigh) Washington has failed miserably in this regard in the past and must do better.

George W. Bush began his administration with a promise to "change the tone" in Washington only to end it with a lament over his inability to do so (unless, some argue, he made it worse). Bill Clinton began his second term by calling a halt to "acrimony and division" and then generated buckets of the stuff over the next four years (low-lighted by his own impeachment). George H. W. Bush declared in 1989 that his presidency would mark "the age of the offered hand," only to be showing his opponents the back of his by 1992 (calling the Democratic-controlled Congress an institution of "PACs, perks, privilege, partisanship and paralysis").

In other words, the whole "let's be nice" idea has been floated before. And it forms a dubious backdrop against which Mr. Obama - who wallpapered his campaign with calls for a "new politics" - will deliver his own call for comity, cooperation and "coming together" next week.

Leibovich's latersummary of finger-pointing also favored the Democrats. While Republicans spoke generically of "the Clinton years," Democrats were allowed to finger both Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich by name and heap specific derision on them both.

The question of who is to blame for the recent partisan division and rancor is itself a source of partisan division and rancor. Democrats love to blame Karl Rove, the former White House political chief, particularly his stewardship of the midterm elections of 2002, which shattered any sense of unity that existed between the parties after Sept. 11, 2001. Republicans often speak generically of "the Clinton years," while Democrats note that Mr. Gingrich's reign as speaker and the initiation of impeachment proceedings against the president engendered much of the nastiness during the 1990s.

Veteran Washington figures speak nostalgically of the 1980s, romanticizing the affection between Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill, who are said to have enjoyed swapping jokes and stories after hours. While their bond seemed genuine, it was also overstated and, either way, not terribly evident in their public dealings. Mr. Reagan's successor, Mr. Bush (41), asserted in his inaugural speech that "a new wind is blowing," which did not speak well of the old wind. And Republicans are just as quick to decry the ham-handed tactics of the Democratic Congresses that preceded the leadership of Mr. Gingrich and Dennis Hastert.

Last year Leibovich referred to the formervice president turnedenvironmental leftist Al Gore as a "compelling" "pop culture icon."