By Matthew Dallek, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
There’s a good article in Roll Call today about tomorrow’s conference, “Breaking the Stalemate: Renewing a Bipartisan Dialogue,” at the National Archives Building. Cosponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center (where I’m a visiting scholar), the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, and the U.S. National Archives, the event highlights an important point that’s often lost in the debate about bipartisanship.
Bipartisanship receives a bad rap; it isn’t necessarily the soft and fuzzy goal with which it is often associated in our wider debates. Pete Weichlein, executive director of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, told Roll Call that, “We do not have a goal [as an organization] to create all-encompassing bipartisanship on all things Congressional.” Nor is BPC’s president, Jason Grumet, under any illusions that a new unity politics will suddenly emerge from the cultural ether of 2010 America: “There’s not a single member who’s ever served in congressional leadership who was not an effective partisan, and that’s a good thing,” he told Roll Call.
One point that both Weichlein and Grumet were making is that partisan differences are healthy necessities in American democracy. At the same time, congressional leaders also have to know how and when to work across the aisle and strike bipartisan compromises in order to be effective legislators and achieve social progress for the United States. Bringing Democrats and Republicans together to enact signature social legislation--whether it be civil rights in the mid-sixties or S-CHIP in the 1990s--is often a requirement, especially when the Senate needs 60 votes to enact legislation.
“Politics is a good thing,” Grumet told Roll Call, even if the outcome isn’t always bipartisan compromise on every legislative item on the congressional agenda.