It might be that a rare breath of fresh air can be taken in Washington, D.C.

After lengthy debate, the evenly divided Senate has reached a compromise tax cut plan, less than the $1.6 trillion reduction over 10 years that President George W. Bush requested but substantial nonetheless. For Bush, who pledged during his campaign to work with members of both parties, it is a positive sign that the legislative process need not be quite so contentious.

After all, everyone is on the same team in the bigger picture, and it would seem helpful to have a bit less argument and a bit more harmony from the Capitol.

Yet it hardly seems that simple. The last several years have not seen a great amount of unity among Congressional leaders. Both of the major parties, though ostensibly seeking the same goal — to help American families realize their dreams — have drastically different and almost irreconcilable approaches to solving the problems this goal involves.

At times, the debates are so contentious that votes are divided strictly by party lines, that members storm out of the Capitol to hold press conferences in protest of the opposition’s program, that the government has shut down awaiting a budget resolution. Additional examples abound.

Does it seem reasonable, for instance, that not a single Democratic senator believed that former President Bill Clinton had committed perjury or obstructed justice, not a single one crossed party lines on the basis of his conscience? It seems unlikely that this government of extremes is the most healthy situation for America. Worse, it makes any hope for a true bipartisan consensus exceedingly dim.

Has government always been this way? Certainly differences have always been and will always be present even between reasonable people. Yet a glance at history seems to reveal less partisan rancor and more pursuit of the common good.

Perhaps a large part of the unity of old can be attributed to the presence of a major enemy with a competing ideology, no longer the case in the post-Cold War era. In any case, the atmosphere in Washington seems to have seriously deteriorated in recent times as compared to the past, degenerating into the circus already described that has engendered great apathy among the populace.

Even if this is a romanticized view of the past, something seems to be missing from American politics today: patriotism. Gone are the days when Congress and its constituency rallied around great American ideals, around building the world’s finest military, around achieving great national goals such as a trend setting space program.

Today, the norm is not national pride but rather deprecation, bashing the domestic programs of the opposing party and belaboring the mistakes the government has made in the past. With such a discordant atmosphere — devoid of patriotism — that fails to acknowledge the rich promise of opportunity in America, it is no wonder consensus is such a rarity.

This is not to say that a stance of “my country, right or wrong” is the paragon of attitudes, but it might be worth some consideration in light of the bitterness caused by partisan politics. To have a renewed age of leaders who are first American patriots and second Republicans or Democrats might be exactly what our government needs.

In this regard, even if Bush’s call for bipartisan consensus faces great challenges under the current conditions, at least he is opening a discourse on unity. The recent compromise on the tax cut might be the first fruits borne of his dedication, a reassuring sign that cooperation is not hopelessly out of reach.

William Edwards is a junior in Pierson College. This is his last regular column of the semester.