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SALTER: Political fallout aside,...

SALTER: Political fallout aside, Biden’s ‘reach across the aisle’ premise is the pragmatic approach

By: Sarah Ulmer - June 26, 2019

Studio portrait of Sid Salter. (photo by Beth Wynn / © Mississippi State University)

By: Sid Salter

Among most of his supposed 2020 Democratic presidential primary opponents – particularly those hitching their political wagons to the New Left – Joe Biden’s recent comments on the days when those with significant differences within their own parties and certainly with those in the opposing parties could reach out and work together for the common good have been denounced as political heresy and compared to “dog vomit.”

Joe Biden’s record on civil rights, other than on the topic of busing, certainly in no substantive way compares with those of Georgia U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge or Mississippi U.S. Sen. James O. Eastland. Biden was also a protege of sorts of Mississippi U.S. Sen. John C. Stennis, but Stennis was up until his final years on Capitol Hill an opponent of civil rights legislation.

The rest of the 2020 Democratic presidential field saw Biden’s musings on how he coexisted and interacted with political opposites like Talmadge, Eastland and Stennis as evidence of a sort of betrayal of the views of modern day New Left Democrats who are at best hyper-partisan and who speak the politically correct language of the young and angry wing of the Democratic Party.

Biden’s recent remarks closely mirror those made in the past by Teddy Kennedy, who famously drank whiskey and smoked cigars with Eastland in his office during the days when Eastland controlled the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biden was clearly closer to Stennis, but he maintained a working relationship with Eastland as well.

Unfortunately, we have reached a point in this country where hyper-partisanship – blind, unyielding devotion to one party or another at the expense of all else – has become virtuous while bipartisanship has become ignoble vice. It’s not enough to disagree politically, but the new partisanship almost requires that political combat ensue and that there be clear winners and losers. Both parties are guilty of it and neither of the major U.S. political parties can claim much moral high ground.

The castigation of Biden for giving countenance to bipartisanship and the notion of reaching out to political foes shows how deeply political gridlock grips Washington, D.C., now at a time when legislation that passes the Republican-controlled Senate is virtually guaranteed to be dead-on-arrival in the Democrat-controlled House.

The proliferation of political “purity” TV news coverage makes the rejection of bipartisanship a virtual certainty. Conservatives are told on Fox News about the supposedly dangerous strategies and motives of liberal Democrats. Liberals get the same political indictments of conservatives MSNBC while CNN carries on a running battle with the Trump White House.

And what the political affinity news networks don’t accomplish in terms of undermining bipartisanship, social media accomplishes with great precision. The steady torrent of social media posts and Tweets designed to sway voters is a big part of the economic collapse of traditional media outlets and leaves readers to fend for themselves in the marketplace of ideas. In far too many cases, the loudest voice dominates the conversation.

Biden offered the fair point that governing is about finding common ground with political adversaries and negotiating for public policies that generate buy-in from both sides of the political aisle.

Gridlock in Congress is clearly part of the dynamic driving Donald Trump’s rise to power and his appeal to voters who are sick and tired of traditional politicians who can’t seem to make the process work. In the absence of working bipartisanship that can lead Congress to get the people’s business done, voters will likely continue to gravitate toward political leadership on the extremes of both major parties.

And before Republicans take too much glee in the internecine warfare among Democrats, the GOP has their own problems between those solidly on the Trump train, the Tea Party wing and the mainstream Republicans. Many of Trumps supporters appear more supporters of him in an almost cult of personality rather than traditional partisans.

Biden pointed out something that should be elementary to both sides. There is an independent group of voters in this nation looking for a functional government that can actually govern. For them, bipartisanship is a good thing and desirable. Their goals run deeper than trading social media barbs and exchanging insults.

They want government to solve real problems and serve real needs.

Biden is the presumptive Democratic frontrunner, but he has a record that will be examined and may produce obstacles to his campaign. Calling for mutual respect and bipartisanship on Capitol Hill – even among Americans with vastly different beliefs and values – is not one of them.

About the Author(s)
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Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state. Email Sarah: