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Challenging the Church of Broderism

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David Broder - and his broader religion of Broderism - is the unimpeachable orthodoxy in Washington, D.C. Pushed by high priests of conventional wisdom like like Broder and Mark Halperin, this zombie religion's premise is simple: Anything that is "bipartisan" (ie. that both Establishment Republicans and Establishment Democrats support) is good, and anything that is "partisan" (ie. that either Establishment Republicans and Establishment Democrats reject) is bad - regardless of any empirical look at policy. Put another way, Broderism applauds policy based only on its political support inside the Beltway rather than on its merits.

Broderism, of course, brought us those shining pillars of greatness like the Iraq War, financial deregulation and job-killing trade deals. As I say when I give speeches about American politics, the only things that are truly bipartisan and pass the Senate by wide margins are either bills renaming a post office, enacting a corporate tax cut or starting a war.

If we are going to capitalize on this moment of progressive opportunity, it will require Democratic leaders to reject Broderism's fetishization of bipartisanship. By that I don't mean Democrats should not try to reach out to rank-and-file Republicans on issues of common cause (like, for instance, reforming the Patriot Act or reforming trade policy), and I don't mean that Democrats should go out of their way to alienate Republicans. But I do mean that this moment requires Democrats to first and foremost prioritize good policy over the image of bipartisanship. And the good news is that - despite President Obama's dance with irrelevant House Republicans - that's starting to happen.

Yesterday, we saw some great examples of top Democrats making the substantive argument about why Congress should ignore conservatives' discredited economic suggestions. Now, though, we're seeing Democratic leaders (finally) start to make an even bigger meta argument against the prioritization of bipartisanship over everything else - an argument the progressive movement has been making for years.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she didn't come to Washington to be "bipartisan", one day after shuttling through an $819 economic stimulus bill without a single Republican vote.

"I didn't come here to be partisan, I didn't come here to be bipartisan," Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference. "I came here, as did my colleagues, to be nonpartisan, to work for the American people, to do what is in their interest."

Repeating the term "nonpartisan" on more than one occasion in describing the bill, the Speaker said her goal was to put President Obama's vision on paper for the good of the country regardless of the type of support it garnered.

Sen. John Kerry says Democrats should ignore Republicans' demands about the stimulus plan if they're going to vote against it anyway. Reacting to Wednesday night's vote in the House -- where not a single GOP member supported the stimulus package -- Kerry told Politico that "if Republicans aren't prepared to vote for it, I don't think we should be giving up things, where I think the money can be spent more effectively."

"If they're not going to vote for it, let's go with a plan that we think is going to work."

Kerry's statement is a tad weaker than Pelosi's, in that he implies that IF Republicans are willing to vote for something, it's OK to accept policies that we know won't work. Pelosi, by contrast, is making it perfectly clear: The goal of elected officials should be - the goal the voting public expects - is policies that we know work, "regardless of the type of support it garners."

But that small difference aside, both of these statements represent a really important step in challenging the pernicious Broderism that has hobbled Washington for way too long - and not just because, according to the Huffington Post, it is emboldening rank-and-file Democrats to stand strong and advocate good policy. These two are challenging the single most powerful orthodoxy in the nation's capital, and because of their seniority, stature and raw legislative power, Pelosi and Kerry can't simply be written off as heretics. In wading into this fundamental debate about what the overall priority of Congress should and shouldn't be, they are beginning the epic battle to really change the overarching narrative that confines our politics.