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Editorial: Crossing the aisle

While itís not on par with the lions and lambs cuddling up together, a proposal for bipartisan seating among members of Congress during this yearís State of the Union address is a good idea that should be jointly endorsed.
Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, initiated the plan for Republicans and Democrats to mix it up ó so to speak ó in the gallery as President Obama speaks next week. Traditionally, the two parties have dug in on opposite sides of the center aisle, like families at a shotgun wedding. The new seating plan has received enthusiastic support from several legislators, including Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., who said it would be good to ěbegin the year with a strong statement of unityî and set a ěnew, bipartisan tradition for the State of the Union.î
Like the recent reading of the Constitution from the well of the House, itís a purely symbolic act. But symbolic acts have power. This is one that can help set the proper tone and context for the critically important work that lies ahead as Congress wrestles with budget deficits, immigration reform and continued debate over the direction of health-care overhaul, among other issues. Those issues wonít be solved by ěhubba-hubbaî cheerleading for the home team.
Obviously, with the horror of Arizona all too fresh in mind, officials are in a less combative frame of mind. Bipartsan seating during this prime-time event wouldnít require anyone to compromise political principle, but it might in some small way help bridge the gulf between the parties in Congress. It also might reduce the likelihood of another ugly ěyou lieî moment, such as occurred during President Obamaís 2010 address, and renew interest among listeners who have grown weary of the orchestrated political theater in which one side of the aisle predictably erupts in lusty cheers, while the other side indulges in hisses and boos or simply sits in stony silence.
Besides, if the gallery exercises some restraint in its cheering and jeering, a more dignified atmosphere wonít be the only potential benefit. Members of Congress might get home a little sooner, too.

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