December 14, 2009
Bipartisanship in our era is a joke. Everyone promises it and nobody can deliver. Our most recent two Presidents (and their challengers) campaigned on a platform of being political gap-bridgers---uniters, not dividers. But then it always blows up instantly. Obama tried for bipartisanship for about a week before he passed his stimulus package with a strictly partisan vote. Bush got a little more leeway before becoming "the most divisive President in history."
But the thing about that is that every President was considered the most divisive President in history. Clinton was so despised by the Right that he was impeached on sex charges, to the Right's own political detriment. Ford kept getting shot at by women. LBJ could barely go outside his house the protests were so bad. Lincoln caused a civil war. And so on. Not that this is a bad thing- Josh Lyman, among others, teaches us that partisanship is a necessary evil that leads to enhanced debate. Sharper elbows produce sharper ideas.
However, in our trip through divisive presidents, the buck stops with Monroe (to paraphrase another divisive president). Monroe went way out of his way to appoint politically opposed and geographically diverse men to his cabinet and government posts. His unprecedented effort at reconciliation led to his Presidency being dubbed the "Era of Good Feelings." He paid a price for it at first- a friend to all is a friend to none, and Henry Clay led the charge of people who were offended by Monroe's choices.
But it paid dividends later on when, despite a string of failures, Monroe preceded Ronald Reagan as America's first Teflon President. There was a terrible depression in 1819, and Monroe mishandled Missouri's application for statehood, which eventually led to Missouri being admitted as a slave state (until it wasn't---we will get to that during Buchanan). But people stuck with Monroe and he retired as one of our most popular Presidents ever.