"Bipartisan unity" is a tool too often used by opposing political actors to water down the ideas of their opponents instead of actively debating their merits. There will undoubtedly be people that are unhappy with decisions made by politicians on every level of government—that is simply the nature of the process.
While our elected officials should (ideally) work to help their constituents, the role of government is not to make everyone happy. Often, there are just simply not multiple legitimate sides to an argument.
In the aftermath of the violent January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, Republicans preached unity when Democrats formed a special committee to investigate the circumstances of the deadly day. They did so after rejecting a bipartisan committee that would have provided the unity their words preached.
Unity was used as a red herring for their true intentions to kill the commission. Their motives were further revealed after they shamed fellow Republicans for joining the commission.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy went as far as threatening to remove Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger from their committee assignments for their involvement in the investigation of the attack.
For McCarthy, unity never meant bipartisanship—it meant getting his way. This wasn’t the first abuse of unity, and it won’t be the last. If we continue to reward politicians who promise a fake premise of unity, we will continue to have a government that says one thing while doing another.
That is not to say that there aren’t true believers in the idea of unity. During his inauguration speech, Pres. Biden expressed his almost self-defeating support of the idea.
“This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward.”
It’s the path he set and it’s the path he has stayed on, but to little avail. Biden attempted to bring Republicans to the table and compromise, but they refused to negotiate in good faith, hampering any good faith attempt at unity. This commitment was on full display when the administration secured the Senate passage of $1 trillion in infrastructure spending. The vote was 69-30—a bipartisan supermajority.
Unity only works if all sides are fully committed to it. It makes no sense for one side to sacrifice its ideals in the name of unity if the other side is not willing to do the same. This is the predicament that Democrats find themselves in today—striving for unity while Republicans hijack the idea in pursuit of a partisan wish list.
Democrats have attempted to take a high road approach to governing that attempts to bring Republicans into the fold. However, it has become clear that was the wrong decision as Republicans are even threatening to default on America's debt. Democrats control both houses of Congress and the presidency; they have the votes needed to enact change without bringing Republicans to the table.
The Republican call for unity is a partisan political tactic meant to make Democrats seem unreasonable and stall progress. It is time to stop treating unity as a legitimate concern for our institutions, as it is anything but.
Charlie Stephens is a 20-year-old political communication junior from Baton Rouge.