Bipartisanship is a word that is bandied around by our politicians often but rarely practiced. In some ways, to even talk about bipartisanship in American politics is a foolhardy exercise. Vitriolic exchanges between parties have characterized our Republic since its earliest days. Among the more infamous exchanges were John Adams’ charge that Thomas Jefferson had a black child (c.a. 1800, which ironically turned out to be true), and Andrew Jackson’s accusation alleging that John Quincy Adams’ wife was an adulterer and hastened her death. We all look back fondly on the days of the Cold War when “consensus” reigned in Washington. Yet, this is only true in a limited sense — the country and our national leaders were only united on defeating communism. When it came to things like the expansion of the welfare state under Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, there was (thankfully) no bipartisanship to be found.
So is our nation hopeless when it comes to working together? Fortunately, the answer — however dim — is no. History also contains, albeit few, examples of Democrats and Republicans being able to work together. Though diametrically opposed on nearly every issue, Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan enjoyed an amiable personal relationship, and the President could not have pushed through his economic reforms without the “boll weevil” Democrats.
However, the serious differences between Republicans, Democrats, conservatives and liberals cannot be belied. Conservative Republicans, Tea Partiers included, are just that — conservative. We believe in limited government, a smaller size of the state, a smart and strong national defense, an overarching moral code by which all humans should live and respect for traditional social institutions, which ought not to be changed overnight. We do not believe in these things without reason; we believe in them because they work while simultaneously ensuring maximum individual liberty for everyone. Yet all too often we are called “racists” when we want to enforce laws regarding immigration, “militaristic” when we believe force is necessary to stop our nation’s enemies, “the 1 percent” when we defend low taxation and “chauvinists” for conducting a supposed “war on women” when we stand up for the voiceless unborn.
If we strive to have a “bipartisan” consensus again, the best place to begin would be for both sides to once again have mutual respect for each other. Though it may not seem like it at times, I and most other Republicans do not believe most liberals are evil; we just believe they’re extremely wrong. As simple as it sounds, comity between the parties has also bred a more civilized national dialogue in the past. Crazy as it may seem, forcing our politicians to be in Washington all the time tends to breed a friendlier dialogue. Finally, bipartisanship also entails recognizing that it is underhanded to expect your negotiating partners to compromise on deeply held principles only to lambast them for refusing to accept the entirety of your position.
We can have bipartisanship in our time without compromising on principles. But it’s going to take a lot of goodwill — and probably a lot of blind faith — to get there.
Jeffrey Robin is a fourth-year political science and history major.
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of the April 16, 2013 print edition of the Nexus.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.