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Reaching “across the aisle” is a phrase much bandied about, especially in American politics. The aisle in this case represents the ideological divide between politicians of different parties, especially those who serve in state legislatures or in the federal Senate or House. When a politician reaches across the aisle, he or she is making compromises with those of the opposing party in order to write legislation, or cooperate on passing legislation.
In US politics, although there are some smaller political parties, the predominant parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. Unless one party has an extreme majority in a legislative body, it may be difficult to get much accomplished without cooperation between the parties. While cooperation usually isn’t expected in areas where there are huge ideological divides, there are plenty of things that Democrats and Republicans can agree upon.
Also, one factor in American politics is that many people, though they may belong to a political party, are moderate or centrist in their political views. They may be much more appreciative when politicians can reach across the aisle and cooperate to get legislation passed that most people support regardless of party. Sometimes in big elections, politicians will boast about their ability to be centrist and the number of times they have done this in the past. Depending upon the motivation of the electorate this may be viewed as good or bad, but again many people do favor a bipartisan approach to political matters.
Sometimes a politician’s interest in reaching across the aisle can be viewed not as cooperative but instead traitorous. It really depends upon the issues involved when a politician chooses to act in this matter and the political climate at the time. Other times bipartisanship is viewed more favorably, and a whole party or whole legislative body can make a concerted effort to work in a cooperative manner, although there will usually be far right and far left holdouts.
There are other ways in which the phrase “across the aisle” can be applied. It can mean cooperating with those who share different opinions in a variety of settings. This does not always work, since compromising has a tendency to mean you’ll have to give something up in order gain something.
Another way in which the phrase is used is in church communities since many of them literally have aisles. In many church services people shake hands and offer each other blessings or peace during the service. This can be viewed as a different means of reaching bridging the aisle that helps enhance community and good feelings between members of a church.
There have been a few presidents who managed to get support across the aisle, like Lyndon Johnson. He might have had a few staunch Republican congressmen who didn't see eye-to-eye on things, but he still managed to get important things like the Civil Rights Act and Medicare passed.
I think there are times when the two sides of the aisle aren't really that far apart on an issue, and there are other times when an influential member creates an artificial rift and expects other party members to play along with it.
Personally, I think failure to reach "across the aisle" is one reason president Obama hasn't had more success in the office. Most of the Republicans got together and decided if Obama said the grass was green, they were going to insist it was red. I've lived through my share of presidents and Congresses, and I have never seen it as bad as this. Usually if the issue has benefits for all citizens, like affordable health care, there would be a lot of handshakes across the aisle, but not these days.
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