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Cooperation in Congress? It's in our constitutional DNA.

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Even as it sets out other powers and responsibilities needed for effective national government, the Constitution makes the exercise of power cumbersome, in order to ensure that it is deliberative. This constitutional scheme itself tends to drive policy to the center. We do not have a parliamentary system in which a party wins a majority of seats and is entitled to govern. In our system, the necessity for compromise springs from our constitutional DNA.

Now, consider the political profile of the country. As the last two elections confirmed, we are a politically centrist people, split pretty much down the middle. The country's political makeup should also counsel bipartisan cooperation.

It's one thing to make a constitutional and political case for bipartisanship and civility. It's quite another to encourage and sustain it. Like all of us, members of Congress respond to ideas and to incentives. The good news is that our founding principles furnish the ideas, and political realities should help with the incentives.

America's leading idea was and is that we're all created equal. To keep faith with that principle, our representatives need to act out of the mutual respect that equality demands. As elected representatives of constituencies of civic equals, they are obliged to treat one another civilly.

Out of this flows an imperative for civility as a matter of political morality. That is, if compromise is a political and constitutional necessity, and if mutual respect is a moral requirement of our founding principles, then developing a politics of civility is essential. This civility stuff is worthy enough in its own right. It makes the business of politics more pleasant. However, it is also the means needed to reach the goal of bipartisan compromise.

That gets us to a human dimension, where psychology, sociology, and politics mix.

We're most likely to feel able to compromise with people we trust. We're only likely to trust those we've gotten to know. People are not likely to get well acquainted with colleagues who do not treat them decently. We usually look for some minimal show of goodwill from others – especially if they are from another tribe (party).

It follows that civil and respectful behavior among our representatives is essential for them to develop the trust that in turn enables the bipartisan compromises that are needed for contemporary American politics to function.

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