On Monday, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Lindsey Graham met in a familiar setting: the U.S. Senate. Not the actual chamber, but a full-size replica at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston, with the exact same carpeting, columns, and wooden desks.
What came next, however, was different: an hourlong debate between opposing partisans, with each responding to the other’s points. In today’s Senate, that type of exchange is all but extinct. Many speeches are soliloquies delivered to an empty chamber.
The debate, the first in a series of three, was an attempt to revive an older tradition of constructive disagreement that can yield bipartisan solutions. As a former high school debater raised on a British diet of robust parliamentary give and take, I wanted to see it for myself.
On one side of the marbled rostrum stood Senator Sanders, an independent from Vermont. On the other, Senator Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. They faced a packed floor of invited guests and the event’s moderator, Bret Baier of Fox News.
The topic was the economy, and both speakers brought their talking points. Senator Sanders blamed corporate greed for the woes of working Americans. Senator Graham blamed President Joe Biden’s policies for high gas prices. Unlike in a true debate, there was no motion to be defended or opposed, and neither speaker fully engaged with the other’s points.
When Mr. Baier pushed for points of agreement, both senators condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin and said the deficit was too high. They also praised their colleagues who are working on a gun-safety bill, a rare moment of accord and comity on a difficult topic.
Ultimately, I was left wanting more, but was encouraged that the two senators were at least willing to attempt to debate for an hour in public. It was a baby step, but a necessary one.