Reaching across the aisle
When we say that we want politicians who can reach across the aisle, what do we really mean?
Reach across the aisle and do what?
I think perhaps this second question is the one that gets asked with the least frequency. Not even to ourselves so that we don’t even really understand what we mean by this expression of bi-partisanship.
In thinking about this I think what some people think reaching across the aisle means is that you have strong skills in reaching out to your political opponents and convincing them of *your* position. Meaning you have strong skills in persuasion.
What I think some people *don’t* think this means is that you reach across the aisle and in the spirit of give-and-take you meet your opponent somewhere in the middle. Thus you will agree to positions that you don’t normally agree to in the process of getting your opponent to agree to positions that they don’t normally agree to. Neither of you get all of what you want – and some of what you end up you don’t like- but you have reached across the aisle and met them in the middle.
What happens, I think, is that people think that they want this to happen until their leader agrees to something in the spirit of bi-partisanship that violates one of their own litmus tests. Perhaps abortion (pro-choice or anti-abortion) is your own litmus test. You are “for” your politician reaching across the aisle as long as they don’t violate your position on abortion – then it is very *not* OK. It is ok to reach across the aisle to try to convince your opponent to agree with your position – but it is not OK to meet them half way. There is no halfway in abortion – or whatever the issue might be.
What happens then is that politicians are less likely to reach across the aisle because in doing so they will violate *someone’s* litmus test and then they will have a bunch of negative ads or be accused of a being a flip-flopper or not a true conservative (or liberal).
I don’t really see the spirit of our congress getting to be more bi-partisan until we stop penalizing them for doing so.