It is perhaps overstating the situation to say that Congress is not suffering so much from a lack of bipartisanship but a lack of alcohol, a social lubricant of proven efficacy.

Sam Rayburn was a legendarily effective legislator. One of the Capitol Hill office buildings is named after him. The Democrat served as House majority leader, minority leader (a pair of two-year stints) and, for 17 years, speaker of the House, still a record, until his death in 1961.

After the day’s work was done, Rayburn would convene what he called his “Board of Education” in an off-limits room on the Capitol’s first floor for convivial rounds of bourbon, poker and compromise. The invitees were key members of both parties and the decidedly informal deliberations were strictly off the record. But these meetings worked.

One of the raps on the more recent Congresses is that the members don’t really know each other. Many don’t live in the capital, and the leadership deliberately draws up a schedule so they don’t have to be there much. (To see how little, check the calendar on the website of Republican Eric Cantor, the House majority leader.)

A possible solution to that social isolation has cropped up in Columbus, Ohio, where, according to the Associated Press, state officials are considering what would be the nation’s first statehouse bar, a place for lawmakers to gather and socialize after working hours.

A little happy-hour time might ease the state’s rancorous politics; certainly they can’t get much worse. Despite the fact that Prohibition, America’s most failed social experiment, ended in 1933, much of the country remains squeamish about alcohol. One objection raised in Ohio was that school children might accidentally catch a glimpse of the bar. (Those would have to be some sheltered school children. But we digress.)

Almost all the national legislatures of Europe have bars for members and invited guests. In Germany, every rathaus — the city hall — contains a bar and restaurant, generally open to the public and generally very good. Perhaps that’s why German cities are so clean and well run.

As our estranged lawmakers get to know one another over a glass or two of an adult beverage, they might want to contemplate the words of Mr. Sam that even today aptly apply to the rule-or-ruin tactics of the tea party-movement right:

“A jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one.”

We’ll drink to that.

Editorial by Dale McFeatters, Scripps Howard News Service


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