The Non-Myth of Bipartisanship

The opinions stated here are my own, not those of my company.

You might be part of the problem.

How does Congress work? It doesn’t. Haha. But seriously.

The news media has been spending a lot of time recently talking about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, with good reason. A trillion dollars of spending is a significant, and there’s a lot of funding to unpack. But one part that strikes me is the perception that this bipartisan deal is somehow novel or unusual.

It’s not. Bipartisanship is not a myth. It happens frequently. It’s just that you don’t hear about it in the news. Yet I’ve created an RSS feed of all the bills that pass through Congress and are presented to the president. I’ve seen quite a few bills that I’ve never heard of, regardless of whether I’m reading Fox News or MSNBC.

There’s a pervasive narrative that both sides can’t agree on things, and the media is partially responsible and you are too. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that forces people apart. Opinion news invites people to talk about the most emotionally charged politics rather than wonks discussing nuance. The goal is not to reach a consensus.

But they don’t do that just to get their jollies either. They do that because that’s what people watch. Angry politicking gets viewers, so the news leans into that, which in turn gets more viewers.

I recently read Kochland, which is about Koch Industries and the political network that they created. They did not create the Tea Party movement. Rather, there was genuine grassroots individuals who were manipulated and funded by the Koch brothers. They didn’t change minds on policies, they just pushed the gap farther apart.

Recent bills passed by Congress include the Construction Consensus Procurement Act, the Senate Shared Employee Act, the West LA Campus Improvement Act, the Alaskan Tourism Restoration Act, and the near unanimous Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

Aside from the last one, did you hear about any of these pass through Congress? Probably not. In fact, I worry that a lack of media coverage is actually a good thing. Partisan people, if they heard these bills, might complain to their congressperson and the intense broadcasting and nitpicking of the bill might force politicians to take a harsh stance against it. Somehow we might’ve created a situation in which transparency is bad for government.

There have been thirty bills since January which have had passed Congress. That’s twenty-nine that have gotten past the filibuster (not counting the American Rescue Plan, which passed through reconciliation on partisan lines). Not all of them are major, but many of them have been introduced by Republican lawmakers. Even though the Senate and the House have Democrat majorities, there is still a way for Republicans to introduce bills and collect enough votes to pass.

Why don’t all of these bills get covered? Do they not play into the narrative of intense partisanship? Perhaps. Perhaps many politicians do act rationally, even the ones we don’t vote for. But when the public hears about a bill, and apply pressure, it forces them to take a certain position in public that they wouldn’t take quietly.

Bipartisanship is good. Look, I get that not everybody sees the world as I do, and ideological diversity is good to discuss ideas and arrive at outcomes that benefit the most people even if I disagree. But the way that our political discourse is setup, it doesn’t encourage bipartisanship. We don’t praise lawmakers of the other side, so they have no reason to listen to us.

You may ask why we should reward people for doing the bare minimum? I agree, it can be patronizing and not ideal. But that’s how you get things done. America is a democracy. People regularly discuss politics, and that’s a good thing. But if you actually want politicians to do what you want, you have to play the political game.

Social Media Expert -- Rowan University 2017 -- IoT & Assistant @ Google