The Bipartisan Women of the U.S. Senate: Civility, Collaboration and Stewardship of the Upper Chamber
Kula, Shannon Marie
The United States Senate has long been called one of the world’s “greatest deliberative bodies” yet today, many Americans see a bitterly divided and ideologically polarized Congress. The American public rightfully demands to understand why limited bipartisanship, as well as significant stalemate and obstructionism, persist in hindering legislative work on Capitol Hill. What is urgently needed is an inclusive polity and healthy public institutions that ensure the success of the American democracy. Indeed, a vital resource is found in the values and actions of the bipartisan women of the U.S. Senate who represent a small, yet impactful, twenty percent of the legislative body.The examination of the bipartisan women of the Senate is a critical analysis of successful behaviors and belief systems in need of replication for productive governance within the legislative branch. How the women of the Senate work with each other and with their colleagues to be successful in a traditionally male dominated institution and in a political environment that currently makes large and small legislative accomplishments a challenge will be explored at length.The dissertation illuminates not only the impact of the bipartisan women of the Senate in their formal roles as legislators and leaders, but also the informal, successful yet not widely recognized dynamic impact they have on the legislative body as a whole, despite increasingly divisive partisan rhetoric. Their accomplishments as legislators and leaders rising above the acrimony to drive progress far outmatch their relatively small number.The bipartisan women of the Senate’s adoption and adaptation of folkways from a great Senate of an earlier time is leading the institution back to the norms of a bygone era. It was a time when civility, collaboration and cooperation ruled the Upper Chamber. In an increasingly polarized Congress, the women of the Senate have not only mastered these folkways or playbooks, but have improved upon them to fit the times. Today the women take the lead on negotiations when the Senate is in stalemate or shutdown, they lead on and pass key legislation not agreed upon in years and they find issues of common ground to work together on, despite differences in political ideology.There are three important lessons to learn from and examine. First, the women of the Senate do something no other group of bipartisan Senators do in the Senate – they all get together on a regular basis and because of this, have grown as a group to value a discursive approach to friendship, politics and collegiality thus resulting in successful bipartisan collaboration. Second, the women of the Senate possess unique leadership characteristics that stem from their values and personal experiences. Experiences and values that primed their adoption and adaption of unofficial Senate rules and norms created before women served as they do today. Finally, the result of their unique actions demonstrate the bipartisan women as effective stewards of the Senate as an institution, exemplifying a fiduciary responsibility to carry on that which is good in the institution, for the benefit of the American democracy.The bipartisan women of the Senate are not only effective legislators because they adopted and adapted what was once a “men only” playbook, but they are increasingly the core group protecting and preserving the very institution of the U.S. Senate itself through their unique methodologies.
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