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Yes, it is true we are further removed from 9/11, and the country has grown war weary after 10 years. Those factors, plus debt concerns, obviously affect newer Members who weren’t here during the intensely emotional outpouring of patriotic fervor earlier in the decade. Nevertheless, just as we had a brief bipartisan moment after 9/11 when people rallied around the president and flag, I think we are experiencing another coming together — this time around the Constitution and institution of Congress — that might or might not lead to bigger things.
For Congressional institutionalists, it is something we have not seen in a long time. It could lead to greater deliberation on policy issues — of Congress rediscovering what it should be about.
It is unrealistic, though, to expect any new institutionalism to diminish the partisan polarization that has permeated Congress the past three decades — at least not until one party gains a large and stable governing majority. In the interim, however, it might help create a more civil and rational decision-making environment in which party differences can play out.
I come back to the Jan. 8 tragedy in Tucson, Ariz., in which six persons were killed and 13 others wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) who had organized the “meet and greet” with constituents.
Just prior to that, Giffords had joined with more than 130 other Members in the House to take turns reading from the Constitution. Ironically, Giffords was chosen to read the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech, press, religion, petition and assembly.
Members came together for that symbolic reading and later in their unified prayers for her recovery and that of other victims.
I can’t help but think there are tensile threads running through all these events that are slowly pulling Members together, whether they fully realize it or not.
Don Wolfensberger is director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Congress and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.