Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

After today's midterms: gridlock or bipartisanship?

November 2, 2010 by Dr. Steve Frank


Publius 2.0 is glad that democracy’s big day has finally arrived. He’s looking forward to substituting the peace and quiet of the voting booth for the clamor of the campaign.

Election Days have a way of arriving just in time. Just when you think you cannot abide one more campaign commercial, the voters come along to silence them.

As the campaign wound down, Publius 2.0 attended a debate between the candidates for Congress in his district. They were asked the expected questions and gave the expected answers – about the economy, energy policy, the Tea Party, Middle East politics, the Islamic center near ground zero, and the partisan rancor in Washington. The two candidates agreed on almost nothing. That their responses adhered closely to party lines suited Publius 2.0 just fine. He left with little doubt in his mind which button to push in the voting booth today. But he did have some trepidation about tomorrow, and what the electoral outcome will mean.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) argued recently in the Washington Post that a victory for her party today in at least one chamber of Congress would mitigate partisan rancor because President Obama would have to reach across party lines and negotiate.

Maybe. The other possibility is that divided government will prompt the series of gridlock-inducing congressional investigations Democrats fear -- something that would only add to partisan rancor. Time will tell.

Today’s excerpt from James Madison in Federalist 14 is intended less for today, when the ritual of voting brings citizens together to register their disagreements, than for tomorrow, when we will need to find ways to bridge those divides:

Hearken not to the unnatural voice which tells you that the people of America, knit together as they are by so many cords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family; can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness; can no longer be fellow-citizens of one great, respectable, and flourishing empire.

So my question to you this Election Day is this: What can we do to strengthen the frayed “cords of affection” that bind us?


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