Gun loophole, Syria unite partisans

Two issues — intervention in Syria and the gun show loophole — are not being highlighted like they should be.

These two topics are well positioned to unexpectedly bust down the partisan walls that have entrapped Congress in its do-nothing culture.

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Suddenly, there are two issues that Republican and Democratic followers agree upon, begging the question of whether their respective party leaders will get the message and act.

If the leaders can set aside their own partisanship for a moment, we might create a less partisan context in which progress can be made on other issues waylaid by parochial bickering, such as immigration, healthcare, tax reform and entitlements, topics where there can be hope for nonpartisan progress.

Let me make a confession. Although there is a partisan side of me, I have come to abhor partisanship.

The objective researcher inside me knows that my conservative and Republican goals and objectives are nullified most of the time by partisanship.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress and other decision-making forums seem to have agreed that perpetuating partisanship is better than making progress on any front.

Isn’t that frustrating?

But my irritation over the lack of progress by Republican leaders is tempered by the fact that GOP followers generally agree with the decision to avoid any compromise on core values.

Democrats do the same on their side. This hunkering down on fundamental principles, though, can cause both Republicans and Democrats to begin to see every issue as a partisan battleground, even when the two sides are closer than conventional wisdom may suggest.

Now comes intervention in Syria and the gun show loophole, the former a front-and-center issue for months to come and the latter a topic that will doubtless reemerge in the wake of the Navy Yard shootings.

On both these issues, Republican and Democrat voters are — amazingly — on the same page, even if for different reasons.

The gun show issue is most notably a rip in the fabric of partisan sandbagging. An early May nationwide poll by the Pew Research Center found that 81 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats agree with requiring background checks for private and gun show sales.

This comes as close to a valence or universally endorsed policy as you’re likely to see in polls in this millennium. We bicker about most everything, but not the loophole.

The notion of intervention in Syria is more divisive on both sides of the partisan aisle, but the splits in opinion are similar.

Sticking with Pew polling, we see that an early September poll showed that majorities in both parties — 70 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Democrats — oppose U.S. airstrikes in Syria.

And, from my perspective, the most tantalizing aspect of Pew polling is that opposition grew over time within both parties.

Compared with a late August Pew poll, opposition grew by 30 points among Republicans and 5 points among Democrats. In short, each side was aware that there was partisan consensus, yet opposition grew.

On most issues these days, we avoid consensus, choosing partisan opposition over self-interested opinions. Once Republican opposition to bombings surged, Democrats “should” have rallied to support intervention, but they didn’t, despite being cross-pressured to support their president.

It is all quite amazing to see liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans in agreement, even if not completely embracing any real new spirit of bipartisanship on intervention.

We should not even permit the use of “bipartisan” to describe this. It really is closer to “nonpartisan,” and that’s a better term to describe where we are.

People and pols are responding as individuals, not as partisan robots. That’s good. Perhaps unfettered by the stifling need to always react in knee-jerk opposition to the other party, we can find new opportunities for coalition building.


Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.

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