When Calling Something 'Politics' Is Mere Politics Itself

Last week, CBS News veteran correspondent Mark Knoller tweeted that “Pres Obama says he’ll do ‘whatever it takes’ to get Congress, esp GOP, ‘to think less about politics and party’ & do what’s good for US.”

I hear that sort of sentiment a lot — politicians telling each other to put partisanship aside and simply do what is best for the country. Most of the time, it’s a lot of baloney.

You can think that many Republican members of Congress are nuts, extremists or, to quote one Republican officeholder, “wacko birds” without thinking that they are taking stands merely because of “politics and party.”

I have been critical of purist conservatives and liberals who are unwilling to compromise on important issues where compromise is necessary to address crucial, immediate problems. But painting all opposition to the president’s agenda as merely “politics” or “partisanship” is nothing more than a political tactic. In other words, it is “politics.”

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and the couple of dozen House Republicans who seem to vote against everything cast their votes overwhelmingly because they think that passing those bills will hurt the country — not because they have decided to vote against anything the White House proposes.

Sure, there are times when opposition to something that is going to pass anyway is mere “politics.” The president knows something about that, since, once he was in the White House, he admitted that his votes against raising the debt ceiling were just politics. That’s not the case with tea party conservatives such as Cruz, Lee and Paul, who have complained often about the size of the debt and the need to shrink government, not grow it.

Yes, there is too much confrontation in this town and too little willingness to compromise on issues. And analysts/authors Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann may well be right in arguing in their book, "It’s Even Worse Than it Looks," that the problem rests primarily with Republicans who are unwilling to meet Democrats even part of the way on crucial public policy issues.

But there is no reason to believe that members on both sides of the aisle whose voting records put them toward the ideological extremes of their parties — from Democrats Danny K. Davis of Illinois, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona on the left to Republicans Steve King of Iowa, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Justin Amash of Michigan on the right — aren’t evaluating bills in terms of what they believe is best for their constituents or for the country.