Source: The Guardian Unlimited
Recently, in an effort to embarrass Republicans pandering to their scientifically challenged base, Senate Democrats proposed a series of votes on climate change. While most Americans and the overwhelming majority of scientists believe climate change is real and people are the primary cause of it, Republican voters are evenly divided on whether it exists at all, and reject the idea that we are responsible.
One amendment, by the Democratic senator Brian Schatz, stated simply that climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to it. Republican senator John Hoeven offered a compromise: take the word “significantly” out. When asked why, he said: “It was about finding that balance that would bring bipartisan support to the bill.”
Reaching across the aisle in search of compromise and consensus is the professed goal of almost every candidate for public office in the US, particularly in recent times, when presidents have come to personify not unity but division. Over the past six decades, the 10 most polarising years in terms of presidential approval have been under either George W Bush or Barack Obama.
As a means, bipartisanship is, of course, an admirable goal: the more politicians are able to work together, put the interests of their constituents first and get things done, the better. The grandstanding, bickering and procedural one-upmanship that characterises so much of what passes for politics is one of the things that makes electorates cynical and drives down voter turnout.
But as an end in itself, bipartisanship is at best shallow and at worst corrosive. For it entirely depends what parties are joining together to do. This is particularly true in America, where constituencies are openly gerrymandered, both parties are funded by big money, and legislation is often written by corporate lobbyists.
Bipartisan efforts over the past couple of decades have produced the Iraq war, the deregulation of the financial industry, the bank bailout made necessary by that deregulation, the slashing of welfare to the poor, and an exponential increase in incarceration. As the hapless Steve Martin says to his hopeless travel companion, John Candy, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles: “You know, I was thinking, when we put our heads together … we’ve really gotten nowhere.”