Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Is bipartisanship anything more than a buzzword?

December 30, 2012 by Alison Young


What do Starbucks, Seinfeld, and Congress have in common?

They all know that compromise and bipartisanship are the way forward. With the fiscal cliff looming, it will take a true spirit of bipartisanship to keep the economy from faltering.

But with a divided Congress and White House still seemingly at odds, is all this talk of ringing in a new era of bipartisanship just talk and no action?

Starbucks baristas in the Washington, D.C., area--in a genius PR ploy by SBUX execs--have started writing “come together” on coffee cups.

While the national media has had a field day with this, it’s hard to say that it will actually have any impact on the elected officials and staff that they’re trying to reach.

In an informal poll of regular Starbucks drinkers in our nation’s capital, only one had actually received the specially marked cup. It seems even Starbucks can’t keep up a corporate-decreed spirit of bipartisanship.

Jerry Seinfeld famously described compromise in the black and white cookie--two flavors living side by side in harmony on one little baked good.

Starbucks baristas are trying. Comedians are trying. How hard are our elected officials trying?

Let’s look at the numbers. When the 113th Congress is sworn in next week, the House will have 233 Republicans to 200 Democrats (with a few vacancies yet to be filled). The Senate will be run by the Democrats at a 53-45 margin with two independents.

With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) calling House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) a dictator more focused on keeping his job and Boehner firing back that Reid needs to “talk less and legislate more,” a bipartisan compromise seems out of reach, unless a scaled-down deal is reached at the last moment.

And the numbers provide little leeway in negotiating meaningful compromises on either side.

How is it that our Founders’ example of heated debates, disagreements, and compromises resulting in a document that endures 225 years later has been cast aside for an unfortunate 21st-century spirit of mudslinging and finger-pointing resulting in a legislative stalemate and economic crisis?

Reasonable parties can disagree, but in the end it’s a desire to work toward the greater good that will renew a sense of civility and bipartisanship in Washington.

Perhaps we no longer have strong leaders to emulate. And perhaps the political system is too far broken to enable compromise and peaceful coexistence.

Next week, as we start the New Year and the 113th Congress convenes, maybe we should just look to the cookie.

Alison Young is the Vice President of External Affairs at the National Constitution Center.

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