Landgraff: Don’t hang onto bipartisanship

Jack Landgraff, Columnist

Bipartisanship is often held as a lofty standard all legislative action must meet. Elected officials like U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) reference bipartisanship as something to aspire to and have refused to support bills they do not perceive as bipartisan. 

Yet prioritizing bipartisanship leaves legislators stumbling over unnecessary roadblocks that not only make little sense politically, but also make little sense from a policy perspective. 

Bipartisan policy is not necessarily good policy, if it is even coherent policy. For Democrats, climate change seems to be a simple example of this phenomenon: If Democrats are correct about the climate problem’s urgency, then there is not any reason to pursue cooperation with Republicans. A measure that strikes a middle ground between oil interests and emissions restrictions could hamper economic growth while not actually providing a meaningful reduction in emissions. 

America may be better off if Democrats decide to go it alone and prevent potentially catastrophic climate change. There’s no reason disagreement from a large minority of legislators or voters makes the traditional line of the Democratic Party incorrect. Going it alone is a fine pathway toward the material objectives Democrats are targeting. It should not matter if U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) would like to be along for the ride. 

There seems to be a belief that democracy works better when bipartisanship is in action, but this is another example of fallacious reasoning that seems to prioritize the wrong elements of governance. Democracy needs the two parties to be engaged, and it needs elections to be fair and free. It does not need the majority party to compromise when it has earned more votes, and it certainly does not demand that policy represent the middle voter’s concerns. 

Instead, effective democracy, especially in a representative system like the one that exists in the United States, is about concrete movement on policy initiatives. Parties that win should govern with a mandate from their voters, not be beholden to some obscure expectation to meet the other side halfway. 

Electorally, bipartisanship is not the advantage some may exclaim. When asked about it, Americans like bipartisanship in theory, but when it comes down to practical action, voters really want the other side, not their own, to compromise, according to a Pew Research report. Indeed, the report found the legislation voters like the most is legislation loaded with wins for their side of the aisle.

This is not to suggest bipartisanship in all forms is bad. Reaching across the aisle in local politics and learning from those who have different perspectives from you is certainly valuable. That process enriches everyone involved and can help bridge cultural divides between people from different parts of the country. 

The continued polarization and fracturing of the U.S. into “Red America” and “Blue America” is certainly not ideal. However, that cultural trend is aside from the crux of this argument.  

Rather, the point is that when legislators and bureaucrats sit down to hash out policy, the middle ground should not automatically be the default goal. Sometimes, one side is right, and that’s the policy that should be pursued. There is no reason to hang onto bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake.

Jack Landgraff is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.