Bipartisanship Breaks Out on Syria – Is That Good?

There’s consensus on Syria: Political leaders side with the president while voters of both parties don’t.

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Although President Barack Obama's decision to seek authorization from Congress for a military strike, punishing Bashar Assad's regime in Syria for using chemical weapons, arrived a day late and a dollar short, the more intriguing development inside the Beltway is that politicians from across the aisle have begun to come together to back the president.

Yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor R-Va. and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi D-Calif., publicly offered their support. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Sens. Bob Menendez D-N.J. and Bob Corker R-Tenn., crafted and agreed to a newly-worded authorization last night. And both of Obama's 2008 presidential rivals – Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – are in favor of a congressional authorization making credible the president's rhetorically-drawn "red line" on the use of chemical weapons.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

While there are no certainties surrounding passage and many political pitfalls ahead, in the short term, it appears that bipartisanship has broken out! Gridlock has eased. Compromise holds new currency inside the Capitol. Washington not only appears to be working, but it seems to be powering forward on all cylinders.

There's only one problem. The majority of Americans are opposed to launching missile strikes against Syria. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll reveals that, "there is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the survey ... [I]ndependents are among the most clearly opposed, with 66 percent saying they are against military action." And according to Pew Research Center's polling, "men are twice as likely as women [39 percent versus 19 percent] to favor U.S. military airstrikes against Syria."

Put another way, Washington's politicians are doing exactly what Americans say they want them to do – "putting aside partisan bickering and getting things done" – and yet, most officials who follow this course will, as a consequence, lose votes in the next election.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Be careful what you wish for. Bipartisanship, unto itself, isn't likely to calm our body politic. Only through debate and deliberation can genuine policy consensus develop.

But the good news is this: Just as the Framers expected, when the decision to use force is presented to the Congress and not singularly by the president, debate and deliberation are almost sure to follow. And thanks to the current crop of "extremists" and "ideologues" in both chambers, the people's many discordant voices will likely be heard.

Our political system is working just fine.

  • Read Leslie Marshall: America Must Do the Right Thing to Stop Syria's Chemical Weapons Attacks
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