State of the Union: Will Republicans and Democrats sit together?

President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night is expected to shape his campaign for the 2012 election season--and that likely means he will have to speak to a number of issues dividing the House and the Senate along partisan lines.

But if one think tank has its way, physical division will not be a factor at the event.

Building on its success from the 2011 State of the Union address, a proposal by centrist Third Way will have Republicans and Democrats seated alongside one another in the hope that sitting together will translate into working together. Last year, Third Way worked with Senators Mark Udall and Lisa Murkowski to suspend the partisan seat chart that has been a tradition since 1845.

Third Way, however, freely admits that breaking the physical divide in last year’s address didn’t exactly spark the results they hoped for during the rest of the year.

Regardless, the organization has expanded its request for Congress:

1) Sit together during the State of the Union and make mixed seating permanent. The spectacle of one side of the room leaping to its feet and the other sitting glumly on its hands is just that – a spectacle. Let’s end this running joke once and for all.

2) Agree to a 24-hour smack talk ceasefire. In the 24 hours leading up to the State of the Union, we ask that politicians and their campaigns speak only about the merits of their ideas, not the demerits of the opposing party’s ideas.

3) Spend a weekend together. We ask that Congress set aside one weekend each year to gather together and spend time getting to know each other.

In the current climate, asking members of Congress to do much of anything might seem like too much, but Third Way thinks its request is realistic: “We are not seeking miracles; we don’t expect to hear strains of Kumbaya. But we cannot imagine Congress solving the nation’s problems unless some form of civility is restored.”

Allen McDuffee writes about politics and policy and covered think tanks for The Washington Post from 2011 to 2013. He blogs and hosts a podcast at governmentality.net and is currently working on a book about the influence of think tanks in Washington.

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