Lisa Murkowski’s a big fan of the idea, so hey — how bad it could be?
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaksa) has joined Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) in spearheading Udall’s effort to have bipartisan seating at the State of the Union, Murkowski’s office announced Friday.
In a letter to members of Congress today Murkowski and Udall propose Republicans and Democrats sit together during the State of the Union address. Currently, the tradition is for Democrats and Republicans to sit only with members of their party during the presidential address. The proposal comes after an earlier one by Udall where the Democrat and Republican leadership would sit together during the presidential address…
“On the night of the State of the Union address, House and Senate members from both parties outhgt to cross the aislie and sit together,” the senators write. “As the nation watches, Democrats and Republicans should reflect the interspersed character of America itself. Perhaps by sitting with each other for one night, we will begin to rekindle that common spark that brought us here from 50 different states and widely diverging backgrounds to serve the public good.”
Follow the link above for a list of 21 senators and nine congressmen who have already endorsed the idea. The Republicans onboard thus far are Murky, McCain, Kelly Ayotte, the Maine sisters, and House GOP whip Kevin McCarthy. If you’re inclined to oppose this, you’ve got plenty of arrows in your rhetorical quiver. For starters, practically the only fun part of the SOTU is watching the two sides of the chamber applaud or not applaud in response to the president’s speech to show where they stand on what he’s saying. If the seating is mix-and-match, you lose that. Second, as Daniel Halper notes, the parties don’t sit apart because they can’t stand each other’s company, they do it because they have heartfelt differences on policy. No sense in obscuring that fact when those differences are bound to reemerge, occasionally in a heated way, sooner rather than later. And third, by making an ostentatious show of civility after the shootings, you’re arguably validating the narrative that a lack of civility was some sort of contributing factor to them. I think that’s less of a concern after The One’s speech, which provided some cover to separate the issue of “tone” from the fact of the murders, but it’s there if you want to see it.
And yet, and yet, I can’t get worked up about any of this, just because the gesture’s so … innocuously lame. Does anyone think having Republicans sit next to Democrats for an hour will do anything, even in a minute way, to “improve the discourse”? There are plenty of other lame gestures you could make off-camera that really might increase the degree of civility, however negligibly: More inter-caucus luncheons, say, or more joint townhalls or media appearances between congressmen of different parties. To sit together for an hour, though, and expect it to change anything? Seriously? Okay, sure, why not? Whatevs.
Here’s Udall touting the idea to MSNBC yesterday. Exit question: Does he realize that party members have always been free to sit wherever they like at the SOTU? Click the image to watch.