OpinionTimes when bipartisanship is an effective solution
Currently, US politics is more polarized than it has ever been. President Donald Trump’s critics accuse him of actively inflaming tensions, while his supporters say that he is “draining the swamp” and that this is no time for compromise. Meanwhile, the US seems more divided – politically, economically, culturally and socially – than at any time in living memory.
Historically, times of national crisis are when bipartisan solutions tend to be actively sought out, and when they are most effective. Party differences can be put aside in the name of tackling urgent threats that go beyond political ideology. It should be apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic, at least, represents just such a national crisis, not to mention the parlous state of the US economy. Yet it seems that our politicians are struggling to even agree on the nature of the problem, let alone how to approach it.
Uniting the nation
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has long called for a more bipartisan approach, by which the two main parties can find common ground and overcome gridlock in either the legislative or executive house. In this, he differs from many other members of his party, who have been far more aggressive in their attitude towards their Republican counterparts. However, to the surprise of many, Biden’s vocal commitment to bipartisan solutions saw him win the primaries as US voters regard him as the candidate most likely to bring the country together again.
While many will laud Biden’s bipartisan vision, his entreaties to GOP senators have so far fallen on mostly deaf ears. Recently, Biden appealed to Republican senators to follow their conscience and wait until after the election to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Electing a hardline Republican to the Supreme Court just before the election is seen by many as a serious threat to the democratic process. Republican senators have nevertheless largely spurned Biden’s call and support taking a vote on the eventual nominee.
It could be argued that bipartisan politics are needed now more than ever. This is certainly the view of the No Labels organization, a bipartisan pressure group that encourages both sides of the house to work together on key issues such as health care, infrastructure, national security and immigration. To this end, No Labels created the House Problem Solvers Caucus, made up of 24 Republican and 24 Democrat senators, which has had considerable success in breaking gridlock and achieving concrete, sustainable solutions to pressing questions.
In fact, bipartisanship has a long and noble history in US politics. When Abraham Lincoln was the surprise winner of the 1860 presidential election, he took the unexpected step of appointing all three of his Republican rivals to the cabinet, while also adding Democrat Edwin Stanton as his Secretary of War. Lincoln famously told a reporter that he felt he had no right to deprive the country of its strongest minds simply because they sometimes disagreed with him.
Bipartisanship is most common in questions of foreign policy, and also during times of war, when national security overrides all other concerns. In 1912, President William Howard Taft stated that the fundamental foreign policies of the US should be raised above party differences. In fact, however, this has not always been the case, with the divide between those who believe in isolationism and those who believe that the US has a responsibility to be involved with world events one of the longest-running and most hotly contested in the nation’s political history.
During World War II, Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Republican Secretaries of War and Navy, but afterwards, the question of continued US involvement in Europe was much debated. It was the Republican senator for Michigan, Arthur Vandenberg, who actively promoted bipartisanship in these circumstances, uniting the two sides of the house with his famous saying that “politics stops at the water’s edge.”
In a situation perhaps relevant to our own, Roosevelt’s Democrat successor Harry S. Truman sought common ground with Republican congressmen by appointing a Republican senator, Ohio’s Harold H. Burton, to the Supreme Court. This was a classic example of a bipartisan president offering an olive branch to his opponents in the hope that they could work together.
Other significant moments in US politics that were achieved through bipartisan means include the formation of NASA in 1958, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1973’s Endangered Species Act. Republican Senator Bob Dole was a champion of bipartisan politics from the 1970s until the mid-1990s. Along with Democrat George McGovern, he successfully fought for the 1977 Food Stamp Program, and in 1990 he was a founder of the Bipartisan Policy Center.
The last president to truly pursue a bipartisan approach was Barack Obama. Critics within his own party accused him of compromise, but Obama was more concerned with overcoming gridlock and getting things done than an ‘all or nothing’ approach, and his presidency was arguably marked by many small, incremental victories rather than massive shifts in direction.
The last few years of US politics have seen both parties digging in their heels as the levels of vitriol and rhetoric have increased dramatically. There is little sign that such retrenchment has been good for the nation, however. Maybe it is time for a more bipartisan approach to political decision-making, one that honest politicians from both sides of the house, and indeed all branches of government, can agree on.
Biden Is in Denial About the Republican Party .
The Democratic nominee insists that he can restore bipartisan comity on Capitol Hill. GOP senators suggest otherwise.“Please, follow your conscience,” Biden said. “Don’t go there. Uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience; let the people speak.