Three years ago, many dozens of Republicans and Democrats arranged to sit side by side at the State of the Union. The break with decades of tradition was orchestrated in hopes of persuading the country that civil discourse and bipartisan collegiality had gained renewed value in Congress after the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.But it didn't work, primarily because one night of pretending to tolerate each other cannot make up for the fact that many of our elected representatives are horrible people, and revel in being horrible people.
The roster of cross-aisle seating arrangements remained plenty big the next year, but there was a noticeable falloff in 2013. And, unless the situation changes in the last hours before President Barack Obama arrives at the Capitol on Tuesday, spotting crossover seatmates in the House chamber looks to be a genuinely difficult task this year.I realize that some may see this as a sign that Congress is now beyond the point where they can manage even the shallowest symbolism suggesting cooperation. Point taken, but so long as the two chambers are going to remain dysfunctional there seems value in the yearly visual demonstration of that dysfunction via the tortured decisions of the various members as to what statements are worth clapping over, sitting on their hands over, or shouting insults at the president over. (Ah yes, yet another instance in which the election of a certain Barack Obama seemed to set a large chunk of conservative America completely a-kilter.)
As for a more proper and less symbolic method of restoring "bipartisanship" or "collegiality," sorry, I don't have any ideas on that front. The central problem continues to be the takeover of the Republican Party by people who value the nation less than they value their movement, and so is willing to do great gobs of damage to it (shutting down the federal government, near-defaulting on the debt, refusing advice and consent on nominees under the premise that large swaths of the government simply do not need staffing, not if a Demmycrat is going to be involved in it, turning every previously uncontroversial federal program into a Great Battle of Ideological Necessity) in mere hopes that the damage will hurt persons of the other party more than it will hurt themselves.
Previous bipartisanship rested on the premise that at the end of the day, both sides at least recognized that government needed to exist, and to function. If you don't even have that, you've got precious little else.