We get so hung up in Washington, especially in Congress, on things like partisan advantage, political power plays and grudge holding. But a national tragedy like the killing of 26 innocent people, including 20 young children, jars us out of our partisan trenches. As my Aspen Institute colleague Mickey Edwards said in today’s New York Times, “Members of Congress, when you get down to it, are just people. There are those things that, at least momentarily, trump ideology.”
The kind of perspective gained from tragic moments for our nation can alter the debate on things like taxation, spending, and entitlements. And maybe, after the events in Newtown, Connecticut, policymakers will see that compromise is a good thing and that national unity is a valuable commodity to help our government and society function. Citizens experience tragedy across the nation all too often, from homelessness, hunger, and job loss, to losing a child for inexplicable reasons at the hands of a mass shooter. Lengthening a public battle over higher taxes for the rich, or cutting defense or entitlement programs, seems rather insignificant and small right now.
Will this tragedy produce a long lasting detente and create a “kinder and gentler nation,” as former President George H.W. Bush said? Or will it just provide a short reprieve from the bitterness and hyper-partisanship that plagues Washington? Being a realist I do not forsee a long term nirvana across Pennsylvania avenue, but certainly this is a time for our elected officials to think through what really matters in this world.