The Trouble With Bipartisanship

Katherine Skiba reports on the latest in pointless symbolism:

Defying tradition, Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk of Illinois will sit together during the State of Union address on Tuesday, a Durbin aide said Wednesday. Durbin is a Democrat and Kirk, a Republican. Normally members of Congress sit on opposite sides of the aisle, in the House of Representatives, for the speech.

The interesting thing here is that the symbolism does indicate the most plausible realistic basis for genuine bipartisanship—regional interest. Ideology aside, both Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin have an interest in twisting public policy so as to maximize the interests of Illinois vis-à-vis the rest of the country. But these kind of parochial interests are necessarily overweighted in a political system that’s based on geographic representation. One of the positive features of partisanship is precisely that it cuts against this tendency and encourages members of congress to try to think in somewhat coherent, somewhat principled terms.

(I also note that Durbin is basically giving away the store here; a Republican in Illinois gains a lot from symbolic bipartisanship and Durbin gains nothing)