Framing Bills As Bipartisan Doesn’t Help

Framing Bills As Bipartisan Doesn’t Help August 5, 2019

Right now is a sensitive time to talk about policies and politics but we need to have this conversation and we need to have it now. As a country, we are recovering from a series of massshootings that took dozens of lives over the course of a week and one especially heinous mass-shooting that was specifically aimed at killing and intimidating Hispanic people. Those are the shooters own, racist and hateful words. And in response to that, today’s news coverage has featured a whole lot of really annoying words. Words like bipartisan. And honestly maybe, given how often we go through this cycle after particularly vicious mass-shootings, we should realize that apparently, that’s not the solution.

And I’ll risk saying something potentially unpopular here: trying to frame gun reform even and kind of especially in the wake of mass-shootings as “partisan” or “bipartisan” is not good and probably something we should stop doing. And trying to market policies off of their “bipartisan” support, in general, isn’t helpful either.

This building is filled with people who care about being bipartisan. It's a shame it doesn't help.
This building is filled with people who care about being bipartisan. It’s a shame it doesn’t help.

A Repeating Cycle:

This keeps happening. No seriously, this weird thing that we do as a country wherein after a mass-shooting we go on and on about bipartisan gun reforms keeps happening. It’s gotten to the point where the word “bipartisan” is so commonly repeated that America’s least-popular parrot knows to at least say the word when he’s regurgitating his weird word-salad.

Yet, despite how often almost literally everyone feels the need to seemingly mindlessly parrot the word “bipartisan”, major gun reform that might help reduce mass-shootings hasn’t been passed at the federal level in years. And this isn’t for a lack of trying y’all. If you want a more precise and updated timeline, click here to see Ballotpedia discuss this.

So what’s bad about the word bipartisan?

First, it’s apparently not effective. Like what’s the point about boosting about something being bipartisan if that bill won’t pass? And honestly, at this point, we can safely assume that supposedly bi-partisan gun law bills won’t pass. At least not at the national level. It’s pretty important that we mention that states have passed state-level gun control laws and oftentimes we don’t hear people mention that. And if you’re curious about how this relates to conceptions of being bipartisan, it apparently and sadly seems to break down mostly along party-lines even at the state level according to PBS NewsHour. I actually do recommend reading that article though because it mentions neat exceptions to this.

Second, it’s really kind of meaningless. How many people need to cross party-lines for something to be “bipartisan”? How many Republicans need to back various attempts to reform gun laws before we call it bipartisan? Because how bipartisan is a bill in theory if in practice we can’t actually get it to be heard in both chambers of Congress? Even if a bill is voted down, at least people heard it and actually debated it. Though to be fair, it’s worth remembering that we have that a ghoul in Congress, in the form of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell so maybe, until we get rid of him, we can forgo that view of bipartisanship. But even then we still have to ask how many lawmakers from “the other side” (of whatever your particular political beliefs happen to be) are needed to make something bipartisan. Is it just one? Because there’s a lot of that and that’s not a bad thing but that does mean we should stop taking this moniker so seriously.

Third, it makes policies about the faces behind them, not about the people affected by them. Referring to policies as being “bipartisan” centers the people in power who agree that the policy is a good thing or at least an acceptable thing and decenters the actual policies. There’s a part of me that wants to half-jokingly suggest that we implement a new system that strips away our ability to learn who authored bills and instead focus on them for what they contain. A sort of “veil of ignorance” policy for determining our positions on policies.

This last point about the faces behind polices touches on the idea of politics as a drama or even as a sport, and words like bipartisan really do amplify that idea. Politics is not just a game or a drama with no consequences y’all. This framing of things as bipartisan or partisan can definitely make politics feel more entertaining we need to remember that political decisions and decisions on policies have real consequences.

Also, lots of things that have or have had bipartisan support are bad y’all. FostaSesta was bipartisan and that bill is, was, and has been a disaster. Whether or not something is bipartisan or not is not something that determines how effective that law would be, or whether or not it’s worth supporting. And the sooner we realize that and act like we’ve realized it the better off we’ll be, politically.

And this is far from the first time someone has said something like what I’m saying. When being bipartisan means watering down legislation, it doesn’t actually help people.

You’re just complaining. Do you have recommendations to improve this situation?

Yes, actually. This one is for you, Democrats.

Stop framing acceptable policy by caring about what is viewed as acceptable by Republicans lawmakers. Stop marketing policies that have some nebulous level of bipartisan support and craft policy that isn’t limited just because you feel the need to have something that a Republican lawmaker, somewhere in the country, would sign off on.

Seriously, there are at least some reforms that Democrats could aggressively back that are popular. People keep making this point because it’s true. I am not an elected official, I don’t know what indescribable eldritch force compels Democrats (I mean I’m lying, I know exactly what indescribable eldritch force is doing that) to focus on bipartisan policies as opposed to just shooting their shoots and relying on the power and factualness of their own policies combined with an understanding of what the American people want, but maybe Democrats should just aggressively craft real policies that aren’t watered down to appeal to Republican lawmakers. And if questioned about these decisions Democrats should just say that they are governing the way the American people want, not the way Republicans would like. That in and of itself would have a level of popularity to it.

If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can take pride in being the “grave-digger of socialism” hours after information about a mass-shooting went public with this gross tweet which includes specific people (including a political rival!),

then Democrats can believe in the power of their own policies and fight for them without aiming for support from a wayward Republican lawmaker. Because when push comes to shove it doesn’t seem like these Republicans value being bipartisan all that much, and we all know they don’t want to help the American people.

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Luciano Joshua Gonzalez-Vega runs Sin/God and is the column’s sole author. The Puerto Rican writer is constantly working, whether he’s creating content for his YouTube channel, searching for freelance writing jobs,  studying to finish earning a Master’s of Arts degree in peace & conflict studies, discussing various topics with his friends online such as on Wednesday nights with fellow YouTuber Wonder Lady as the co-host of the Humanist Perspectives program, or as a general guest on a range of different YouTube channels. He is an independent content creator and columnist who dreams of being financially independent and able to self-finance a consultant’s business aiding businesses and organizations that find themselves burdened and needing conflict management services and even hoping to one day have a nationally syndicated radio show wherein he aids people dealing with workplace or familial conflicts and also advocates for humanistic approaches to the problems of the day. 

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