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Bipartisanship endangered, not extinct

It was announced this week that the National Institute on Civil Discourse awarded its first grants to several UofA departments: one to watch how politicians handle confrontational questions from constituents and another to read comments left by readers of the Arizona Daily Star’s website.

Really. The introduction of institute in February made national headlines, due to the fact that it was seen as the noble product of needed self-reflection after the tragic attack in Tucson that left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords seriously wounded and others dead.

It’s okay that the attack had little or nothing to do with talk radio, political goals of anybody or anything remotely political at all. The indicted suspect is mentally ill, but the goals of the institute are nonetheless laudable. And it still can boast about its board of advisors, which includes the likes of Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Arizona notables like Jim Kolbe and Sandra Day O’Connor.

It’s nice to see the institute beginning its work, or at least helping others begin work as awful as viewing poring through the loads of inflammatory and anonymous comments left on newspaper websites.

What would be better, however, would be if the civil discourse institute began work finding real stories of real political people acting and behaving, you know, civilly. On July 20, members of Arizona’s congressional delegation held a Washington, D.C., press conference to announce the introduction of legislation to commemorate a congressional room after Gabe Zimmerman, a Giffords’ staffer tragically murdered during the January attack.

The prime forces behind the bill are Arizona Rep. David Schweikert, a Republican, and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also chairs the Democratic National Committee and has proven herself capable of lobbing the same partisan bombs that could be deemed uncivil by the sensitive standards employed by some these days.

The unveiling of the bill, which was also attended by Arizona Reps. Jeff Flake, Trent Franks, Ed Pastor and Ben Quayle, left Giffords’ spokesman C.J. Karamargin, who was personal friends with Zimmerman, touched and grateful for the across-the-aisle support.

Karamargin was also willing to disclose details of the aftermath of the shooting that, for some reason, have remained unreported — perhaps because they are uninteresting compared to the more combative political spectacles.

Like how Flake was at Tucson’s University Medical Center within two hours of the attack that left Giffords’ clinging to life. “I think he was the first person that said to me, and I heard it a lot that day, ‘I just needed to be here,’” Karamargin said.

Or how a Schweikert staffer was immediately dispatched to Giffords’ D.C. office to help handle constituent services issues. One day after the shooting, Karamargin recalled staff receiving around 900 email and phone media requests from as far away as Germany and Korea.

“After the shooting, they were tremendously helpful,” said Karamargin. “There’s always been a close rapport and that’s something we’ve been appreciative of.”

Schweikert’s staff, for several months, has also quietly, but proudly, spoken of crossing the partisan divide to help Giffords’ staff. One of these tasks is said to have included helping arrange White House transport travel plans for Giffords staffers needing to get to Tucson to participate in the memorial service headlined by the president.

An equally commendable and untold task also includes both staffs working together to keep secured federal funds destined for the border in southeastern Arizona. Karamargin also credited Franks and his staff for close cooperation in protecting Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.

Partisan bomb-tossing, of course, didn’t vanish for long after the July 21 announcement naming a Capitol visitor center room after Zimmerman. Within hours, Wasserman Schultz announced on the House floor that Republican-led debt and deficit reduction proposals was a “thinly veiled attempt by our colleagues across the aisle to end Medicare as we know it.”

Schweikert, who has played a very vocal role in the debt plan, in turn, wasted no time chastising the Senate and the president and boasting that the “big spenders of Washington” had just been shown the “line in the sand.”

But what appears to be near-constant political confrontation solely towards appeasing — or frightening — voters shouldn’t stand as a reason for making no attempts to find genuine occurrences of camaraderie and mutual appreciation and respect.

“People have not picked up on the rare instances of people working together,” Karamargin said this week. “It happens. It doesn’t happen enough. It needs to happen more.”

And when political forces don’t work together, which is more common than not, we shouldn’t feel the need to build a monument to a non-existent standard. And we should easily be able to find a better purpose for a grant.

— Christian Palmer is associate editor of the Yellow Sheet Report.

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