Compromise for the common good
Spring brings a change in the weather, and the first hopeful signs of new life. In Washington, D.C., the atmosphere warmed slightly and we saw the first sprouts of bipartisanship. There's still a chill in the air, but at least there's a chance that cooperation may survive and grow.
Of course, the "bipartisan" attacks on President Barack Obama's new budget, which contained elements both Democrats and Republicans demanded, aren't signs of cooperation. They're just amusing, or, as "Late Night" comedian Jimmy Fallon faux-quoted Obama as saying, "That's how you know it's good."
But on gun safety reform, real bipartisanship seems to be emerging from the cold, hard ground of rigid ideology.
When a seedling breaks through, a mighty oak may grow. Such happened when Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced they had forged a compromise on background checks for buying guns at gun shows. It's an almost historic example of bipartisanship with near universal support — 90 percent of Americans want expanded background checks.
However, an icy blast can kill a tender shoot. House Speaker John Boehner reacted to the senators' bipartisan agreement with scorn: "It's one thing for two members to come to some agreement," Boehner said. "That doesn't substitute the will of the other 98 members."
But Republican Toomey countered Republican Boehner, telling reporters that not only did he think his bipartisan proposal could pass the Senate, but, "There are definitely Republicans in the House that support this." Thursday's vote proved it.
The NRA tried to pressure Sens. Toomey and Manchin, who admitted that they were on the phone with the NRA as they forged their compromise. Actually, the NRA did more than pressure the senators. The Republican-leaning Washington Examiner says the NRA threatened them.
The compromise itself required a compromise. Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois worked as a team with Toomey and Manchin. But, Toomey felt Schumer to be so toxic to gun advocates that he refused to appear at the news conference endorsing their work if Schumer were there. The gentleman from New York agreed to step aside, and Kirk, out of deference to Schumer, joined him on the sidelines, leaving only Toomey and Manchin to announce the work of all four.
So it required three compromises to get a bipartisan agreement on legislation that 90 percent of America wants. And yet, I still find that hopeful.
The Christian Science Monitor finds that compromises are no longer the work of moderates, who are becoming harder and harder to find in Congress, but of individuals coming together for common interests and the common good.
Toomey and Manchin broke from the NRA not only because the public is behind them, but also, I like to think, because they are men of conscience, and that's more important to them than party leaders or the fearsome NRA. Manchin, in particular, was clearly moved after meeting with family members of children who were killed at Sandy Hook.
President Obama hopes to nurture bipartisanship by appealing to the conscience of Congress. He provided Air Force One to bring several parents from Sandy Hook to Washington so their voices could be heard.
In Chicago, first lady Michelle Obama had to choke back tears while talking about Hadiya Pendleton, the Chicago girl who attended Obama's inauguration as a school majorette and was killed a week later as an innocent bystander of Chicago street gun violence.
"This isn't some war zone half a world away," the first lady said. "This is our home. This kind of violence is what young people here face every single day." Obama said she identified with Hadiya, having grown up in Chicago as well. "Only, I'm still here," she said.
Perhaps the lasting legacy of Sandy Hook — the good brought from unspeakable evil — will be a resurgence of bipartisan agreement in Washington.
© 2013, United Features Syndicate Inc.
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