HomeFinanceDon't be cynical, American bipartisanship is still possible. Here's how I know.

Don’t be cynical, American bipartisanship is still possible. Here’s how I know.

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There once was a time in America when liberals and conservatives joined forces to build a better nation. 

It happened not long ago, and it can happen again. 

On the surface, American politics is paralyzed by vicious ideological combat. Culture wars rage over abortion, guns, education and gender issues. Social media inflames our most partisan passions and hatreds. 


But there is reason for hope. Since World War II, great bipartisan achievements have been forged on civil rights, voting rights, arms control, AIDS, Medicare and disability rights. In 2022, Congress experienced a surprising burst of bipartisan productivity, on infrastructure, gun safety, global competitiveness, aid to Ukraine, retirement funding, marriage law and veteran’s health care. 

U.S. Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) found common ground across the aisle with Democrat Senator Ted. Kennedy. (REUTERS/George Frey)

Can) this fleeting progress be sustained in the new Congress being sworn in on January 3?  

Can lawmakers be pushed not only to the right or left, but forward, toward innovative solutions to the big problems facing America?                                 

Absolutely, and for inspiration we only have to look to the not-too-distant past. 

Beginning in the 1980s, one of the nation’s most conservative Republican U.S. senators, Orrin Hatch of Utah, periodically reached across the partisan divide to forge great creative legislative achievements with liberal Democrats. 

In 1984, Hatch teamed up with Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California to pass one of the strongest pieces of pro-consumer legislation ever enacted, the Hatch-Waxman Act, which effectively created the modern generic drug industry and saved consumers trillions of dollars. In 1993, Hatch successfully championed passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which paralleled legislation introduced in the House by then-Rep. Chuck Schumer of New York and was sponsored in the Senate by Massachusetts Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy. 

It was Hatch’s relationship with the ultra-liberal giant Kennedy that offers the most vivid illustration of the possibilities of bipartisanship. “When I came to Washington, I hadn’t the slightest idea that I would eventually have a strong working relationship with, and love for the man that I came to fight,” Hatch recalled in 2009. Despite constant political battles, the two men sometimes shaped American history together.  

Hatch and Kennedy championed the greatest civil rights bill since the 1960s, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which literally reshaped the architecture of the nation to honor the full citizenship of people with disabilities. They pushed through the Ryan White CARE Act of 1990, a measure that triggered a historic expansion of the federal commitment to AIDS research, education, and treatment, a bill that continues to benefit hundreds of thousands of Americans today.                

And in 1997 the two senators teamed up to pass the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, which extended health insurance to millions of American children of the working poor. In 2018, as one of Orrin Hatch’s final acts in Congress, he helped secure full funding to continue the program for another 10 years.  

Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy worked with Republican Senator Orin Hatch on several important pieces of legislation. Together, they serve as a model for a new, bipartisan Congress.

Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy worked with Republican Senator Orin Hatch on several important pieces of legislation. Together, they serve as a model for a new, bipartisan Congress.
(REUTERS/Mike Segar, File)


All three landmark pieces of legislation endure to this day as models of effective, creative solutions to national problems, and without the power of the Hatch-Kennedy partnership, it is entirely possible that none of the three would have passed. They were not liberal or conservative achievements – they were victories for the nation at large. 

“When we got together,” Hatch remembered of his work with Kennedy, “people would say, ‘Oh, gosh, if those two can get together, anybody can,’ and they’d get out of the way.”[8] Sometimes, Hatch recalled, “Teddy would lay into me with the harshest red meat liberal rhetoric you could imagine, but just minutes later he’d come over, put his arm around me and ask, ‘How did I do, Orrin?’” After Kennedy died in 2009, Hatch recalled, “I miss fighting in public and joking with him in the background. I miss all the things that we knew we could do together. 

Right now, the United States urgently needs creative, bipartisan solutions to address a host of issues. 


Partisan disagreements will probably continue for as long as there is a United States.                   

But as soon as the new Congress is sworn in, America’s leaders should channel the spirits of Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy, roll up their sleeves, get to work and get things done — not to tear each other down or only to satisfy liberal or conservative talking points, but to benefit the entire nation and the generations of Americans to come.  

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