10/31/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Putting Policy over Politics

Congress' failure to pass the $700 billion rescue plan will likely go
down in history as a moment of destructive partisanship during a time
when unity and cooperation were most needed.

Last week's deliberations over the bailout package suggested that
congressional leaders would be able to put ideological differences
aside and deal with the financial crisis pragmatically. There was hope
that Congress' increasingly bipartisan rhetoric -- as well as McCain
and Obama's collaboration on this issue -- might be a portent of a
changed Washington, where sensible solutions take precedence over
politics. Unfortunately, this was not to be.

In order to deal with the problems that will face the nation in coming
years, a President Obama or President McCain will have to create the
bipartisan spirit that has been missing in Washington. And, despite
the shameful divisiveness surrounding the bailout fiasco, there is
reason to be optimistic.

Sen. McCain has stated that he'd consider nominating a Democrat to
serve as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Sen.
Obama has announced that he'd work closely with Secretary Paulson to
ensure an orderly transition, if elected.

Such bipartisan consensus is encouraging. The country needs a similar
approach to other vexing issues.

Take energy, for example. With gas prices still hovering around four
bucks a gallon, it's clear that the American consumer needs some
relief. A bipartisan group of senators -- the so-called "Gang of 20"
-- appeared set to advance legislation that would have combined
responsible offshore oil drilling with the closure of some tax
loopholes for oil companies.

Unfortunately, election-year politics seem to have gotten in the way,
as the proposal has been shelved. Voters should let lawmakers know
that they won't stand for punting of this sort. Action is urgently

In contrast to the impasse over energy, we may be seeing some
compromise on an important healthcare issue -- prescription drug

Although Sens. Obama and McCain are on record as supporters of drug
importation, it emerged this month that the candidates are
re-considering the issue. Both candidates, it seems, saw the threat
that imported meds pose earlier this year when contaminated heparin
from China killed almost 100 people.

Despite the shift, neither candidate has attacked the other. That's
good news for voters, as safety must be a primary concern of

It remains to be seen if these examples of bipartisan unity will
become the rule in Washington. But if they don't, the consequences for
the major parties could be dire.

After all, Americans have proven that they're not afraid to migrate to
third parties when their dissatisfaction reaches high levels. For
evidence, one need only look to 1980, when John Anderson reached 24
percent in opinion polls before the election. Or take 1992, when Ross
Perot captured nearly 19 percent of the vote. Polls suggest that more
than half of registered voters would either vote for a third-party
candidate or welcome a major third-party presence.

Given the remarkable unpopularity of all branches of government,
Democrats and Republicans clearly have a choice: They can either
engage in the partisanship that has soured voters or work together to
seek commonsense solutions that resonate with all Americans.

The recent effort to repair the country's ailing financial system was
a perfect opportunity to make historic progress is ending the vicious
partisanship that has characterized Washington for decades. Voters can
only hope that McCain and Obama will learn from this week's failure.

Douglas E. Schoen was a campaign consultant for more than 30 years and
is the author of "Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of
the Two-Party System."