Continued from page 1

Last week, he said, President Obama and members of Congress held a health care summit broadcast on C-SPAN as a “bipartisan” exercise, but representatives from both sides immediately returned to the cable news channels to heat up the rhetoric.

“It’s sort of like the Hatfields and McCoys agreeing to put down their guns for an hour, or ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’ when they came out of the trenches and sang Christmas songs for an hour and then went back to shooting,” he said.

Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who ran against Mr. Obama in the 2008 election, said bipartisanship can be achieved, even in a poisonous political environment, depending on what’s at stake and whether both sides can agree on where the problem lies.

He and Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, worked together on a bill to reform Defense Department procurement. Mr. McCain said Mr. Obama and Republicans also have cooperated on elements of Afghanistan policy.

However, he faulted Democrats for ignoring what he said is the nation’s slightly right-of-center tilt.

“I think the environment is very partisan, but, and again, I do not speak from an objective point of view, but I believe the president came to power and Democrats increased their majorities in Congress and came to believe they could lead the country from the left,” he said.

During the 2008 campaign, Mr. McCain staked out a definition of bipartisanship that boiled down to how often he had stood up to leaders in his own party and worked with Democrats, including on immigration policy, campaign finance reform and climate change legislation.

In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” Mr. Obama railed against majority parties that “concede 10 percent, and then accuse any member of the minority party who fails to support this ‘compromise’ of being ‘obstructionist.’ ”

At his brief news conference last month, Mr. Obama accused Republicans of misconstruing the concept for political advantage.

“Bipartisanship cannot mean simply that Democrats give up everything that they believe in, find the handful of things that Republicans have been advocating for and we do those things, and then we have bipartisanship,” he said, adding that there has “got to be some give and take.”

The interest in bipartisanship ebbs and flows, usually hitting high points after shifts of power.

The Congressional Record shows that lawmakers in the House and Senate mentioned “bipartisan” or “bipartisanship” during floor debates 33 percent more in the 104th Congress, right after the 1994 elections that pushed Republicans to power, than in the 103rd Congress, when Democrats were in control.

Mentions dropped again in the 105th Congress and hovered around 3,500 mentions per two-year Congress until Democrats took control again after the 2006 elections. The 110th Congress set a modern record, mentioning “bipartisan” or “bipartisanship” 4,474 times on the House and Senate floors.

Now, with the president’s agenda riding on bipartisanship, talk has reached a crescendo. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, used the terms 15 times in two Sunday political talk show interviews this weekend, and lawmakers used one term or the other 91 times in House and Senate floor speeches last week.

Voters don’t appear to be convinced.

Story Continues →