Should the GOP Help the Democrats Govern?
The radical idea that 500,000 citizens in a congressional district send a representative to Washington to do something other than scream his head off that the opposition are a bunch of traitorous, America-destroying philistines trying to undermine democracy because they want to declare tomorrow "National Blue-Haired Ladies Day" just hasn't caught on yet on either side.
Of course, the Democrats actually have to do something about governing the country because they are in power and have to take evidence back home to hold up as an example of how busy they have been the last two or six years. This is sort of like a kid who proudly holds up his homework to the teacher, showing her how hard he labored over the assignment even though he waited until the last minute to work on it.
But that hasn't prevented the Democrats from acting in a beastly manner toward Republicans, which is only payback for when the GOP was in the majority and acted in a beastly manner toward the Dems, which they only did because previous to that when the Democrats were in power, they acted in a really beastly manner toward GOP lawmakers.
Politics sure is a serious business, isn't it?
Regardless, Kevin Drum raises a serious issue writing about the legislation that just passed extending unemployment benefits:
And Democrats only had to break three separate filibusters in the Senate to get this passed! The first filibuster was broken by a vote of 87-13, the second by a vote of 85-2, and the third by a vote of 97-1. The fourth and final vote, the one to actually pass the bill, was 98-0. Elapsed time: five weeks for a bill that everyone ended up voting for.
Why? Because even though Republicans were allowed to tack on a tax cut to the bill as the price of getting it passed, they decided to filibuster anyway unless they were also allowed to include an anti-ACORN amendment. Seriously. A bit of ACORN blustering to satisfy the Palin-Beck crowd is the reason they held up a bill designed to help people who are out of work in the deepest recession since World War II. ... That's called taking governing seriously, my friends.
Drum makes a valid point while raising a serious, important question: How much cooperation should the opposition be prepared to give the majority in passing their agenda?
On extending unemployment benefits, it was probably unavoidable to have seen the kind of roadblocks thrown up to prevent passage. But what about health care reform? Cap and trade? Card check?
I am in complete agreement with those on the right who say that the chasm of difference between the two sides on those issues makes GOP obstructionism not only inevitable but necessary. If the Democrats are hell-bent on massive, "comprehensive" reform of the health care system, and wish to employ means to that end that are an anathema to basic GOP principles, it is unreasonable to expect members, much less party leaders, to abandon what they believe and work with the Democrats to pass the legislation.
It may be similarly unreasonable to expect Democrats to forgo comprehensive reform just to cater to GOP sensibilities about massive government intervention -- and eventual takeover -- of the health care system. Hence, the battle royal we are witnessing today where there are going to be winners and losers, even though the idea of health care reform is a good one and necessary. If a lot of Republicans signed on to a bill so at odds with GOP values, it would, for all intents and purposes, finish the party.
I think a similar argument can be made about cap and trade and card check, although both energy policy and neutral labor law reform are also worthy legislative goals. The point being, both sides should recognize that some issues are a bridge too far to cross when it comes to bipartisan cooperation.
But questions raised by the idea that under no circumstances should the GOP ever cooperate with the majority are serious ones. They get to the heart of why we have representatives and senators in the first place and what are the expectations of the vast majority of their constituents when it comes to cooperation with the other party to get things done.
It is a sad fact on Capitol Hill that not only are members scared to death of showing a hint of bipartisanship, but they are well and truly trapped by the excessively ideological nature of their opposing bases of support. This divide not only guarantees that there will be constant partisan warfare, but that essential forms of political discourse like comity and respect for the opposition go wanting.
There are a host of issues upon which the safety, security, and economic well-being of the nation depend that cannot be addressed because it would take both parties to realize their passage. For example, no one is seriously going to address Medicare reform until it is too late, unless both parties can put aside their hateful sniping at one another and give each other the political cover necessary to save the system and avoid total economic disaster.
The extremes of both parties will always play their political games, but on an issue as important as the continued viability of our economy, one would think that responsible members from both sides could sit down and thrash something out. Neither should have to sacrifice basic principles, and no one should be asking for that. But the people who elected these political leaders have a right to demand that they not suffer the consequences for the rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth, name-calling childishness that makes addressing the nation's problems impossible.
The same holds true in dealing with our gargantuan deficits and the ever-expanding national debt. True, this is an even stickier problem than entitlement reform, but if we continue to assign blame and seek to score political points rather than make the effort to come together and solve it, we will either find ourselves bankrupt or suffering some other economic calamity.
We wouldn't have to suspend the relatively normal and expected political gamesmanship that is the sign of two healthy parties competing for the voters' favor. But questioning the patriotism of the opposition, or their racial tolerance, or their good intentions has created an atmosphere so hateful that despite the absolute necessity that both sides face in trying to stave off real disaster, time grows short as echoes of the last wildly insulting epithet fade away.
Other problems would be a little easier to address. Taxes, rational energy policy, investment in education and science -- the list is a long one, but many of our most intractable problems could use the ideas and abilities found in both parties.
Some may believe that I am being naive. That might be true if we had never in our history been able to achieve bipartisanship on anything important. That simply isn't the case if you know enough about our past. Read about Henry Clay and the Missouri Compromise or the fight for the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. Clay wasn't dealing with two sides disagreeing about money or health care. He brought together pro- and anti-slavery factions to vote for his compromise. Compared to that, how hard can it be for Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to have a meeting of the minds on the deficit?
Aside from the most committed partisans in their districts, the voters send their representatives to Washington to solve problems like deficits, health care, energy, and national security. They are much less enamored of the "R" or "D" after their name than they are with seeing the job done. Every poll for a dozen years or more has shown the people to be fed up with the partisan wrangling that substitutes for serious work on Capitol Hill, and yet it continues and gets worse year after year.
The voters aren't as dumb as politicians think they are. They know there are points of serious contention between the parties and they don't expect a love fest. But the problems with America now are too serious for the kind of political yammering we have been seeing from both parties for far too long. On some issues anyway, Republicans are going to have to play ball with the Democrats and vice versa.
Otherwise, there will come a day when they will be arguing over the scraps of what is left of a once great nation, brought to its knees because its governing class couldn't stop acting like brawling children.