Should the GOP Help the Democrats Govern?

But questions raised by the idea that under no circumstances should the GOP ever cooperate with the majority are serious ones. They get to the heart of why we have representatives and senators in the first place and what are the expectations of the vast majority of their constituents when it comes to cooperation with the other party to get things done.

It is a sad fact on Capitol Hill that not only are members scared to death of showing a hint of bipartisanship, but they are well and truly trapped by the excessively ideological nature of their opposing bases of support. This divide not only guarantees that there will be constant partisan warfare, but that essential forms of political discourse like comity and respect for the opposition go wanting.

There are a host of issues upon which the safety, security, and economic well-being of the nation depend that cannot be addressed because it would take both parties to realize their passage. For example, no one is seriously going to address Medicare reform until it is too late, unless both parties can put aside their hateful sniping at one another and give each other the political cover necessary to save the system and avoid total economic disaster.

The extremes of both parties will always play their political games, but on an issue as important as the continued viability of our economy, one would think that responsible members from both sides could sit down and thrash something out. Neither should have to sacrifice basic principles, and no one should be asking for that. But the people who elected these political leaders have a right to demand that they not suffer the consequences for the rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth, name-calling childishness that makes addressing the nation's problems impossible.

The same holds true in dealing with our gargantuan deficits and the ever-expanding national debt. True, this is an even stickier problem than entitlement reform, but if we continue to assign blame and seek to score political points rather than make the effort to come together and solve it, we will either find ourselves bankrupt or suffering some other economic calamity.

We wouldn't have to suspend the relatively normal and expected political gamesmanship that is the sign of two healthy parties competing for the voters' favor. But questioning the patriotism of the opposition, or their racial tolerance, or their good intentions has created an atmosphere so hateful that despite the absolute necessity that both sides face in trying to stave off real disaster, time grows short as echoes of the last wildly insulting epithet fade away.

Other problems would be a little easier to address. Taxes, rational energy policy, investment in education and science -- the list is a long one, but many of our most intractable problems could use the ideas and abilities found in both parties.

Some may believe that I am being naive. That might be true if we had never in our history been able to achieve bipartisanship on anything important. That simply isn't the case if you know enough about our past. Read about Henry Clay and the Missouri Compromise or the fight for the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. Clay wasn't dealing with two sides disagreeing about money or health care. He brought together pro- and anti-slavery factions to vote for his compromise. Compared to that, how hard can it be for Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to have a meeting of the minds on the deficit?

Aside from the most committed partisans in their districts, the voters send their representatives to Washington to solve problems like deficits, health care, energy, and national security. They are much less enamored of the "R" or "D" after their name than they are with seeing the job done. Every poll for a dozen years or more has shown the people to be fed up with the partisan wrangling that substitutes for serious work on Capitol Hill, and yet it continues and gets worse year after year.

The voters aren't as dumb as politicians think they are. They know there are points of serious contention between the parties and they don't expect a love fest. But the problems with America now are too serious for the kind of political yammering we have been seeing from both parties for far too long. On some issues anyway, Republicans are going to have to play ball with the Democrats and vice versa.

Otherwise, there will come a day when they will be arguing over the scraps of what is left of a once great nation, brought to its knees because its governing class couldn't stop acting like brawling children.