Earlier this week several Washington think-tanks got together to hold a kind of summit on bipartisanship. The Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute, and the University of Pennsylvania gathered scholars to dissect this thorny problem.
Thomas Mann of Brookings said the result depends on basic respect and civility.
"You have to be able to accept the legitimacy of the motives of those with whom you disagree, and you have to be willing to engage seriously in their arguments," Mann said, adding that there's little of that on Capitol Hill.
How did we get to the point where we fundamentally believe the other side of the debate is deceitful, corrupt, immoral, even evil? I've got a hypothesis, which is of course partisan.
Over at Gone Mild, Dan had a great post about how the cronyism of the Bush Administration is unlike the cronyism of past presidencies both left and right. I agree with him, and I think the attitudes that prompt that kind of behavior also create the environment for animosity. Dan points out that winning isn't simply means to an end (that end being running the government the way you believe is best) for these Republicans. Winning is the end. The whole point is to crush the other side. Of course to do that with no remorse, you must believe that your opponent is the very apotheosis of all that you abhor.
The other side is the enemy, and you do not engage the enemy in any way except for a fight. That is why we have such ridiculous situations as Republican Congressional staffers forming their own softball league rather than play with Democrats.
And I think it has spilled over to both sides now. I remember a time when I would have been as likely to vote for a Republican as a Democrat. I wanted to hear what each had to say, and I took them at their word. I was still more likely to agree with the Democrat's stance, but if the Republican made a good case I was listening. Today, that has changed. A Republican now starts out in a deep hole, and must work very hard to convince me he/she isn't just a party stooge. And I'm sure a die hard Republican feels the same way about Democrats.
So how do we get from here to somewhere productive?