I opened Friday’s Tax News Headlines, which hits my emailbox daily, to read one of the saddest headlines: Senate Democrats Preparing to Take Up Extenders. Mind you, there is nothing sad about the extenders, which are the proper work of a humane government, e.g., unemployment benefits, COBRA subsidies, something about assistance for underwater mortgages. No. What depressed me deeply was the solitary reference to Democrats. And I was depressed again by this morning’s Financial Times lead headline: Democrats Close In On Financial Reform Bill. Where are the Republicans? There was not one mention of Republicans in the FT article. President Obama met the other day to talk about financial reform with the Democrats. Not a group of Congressional (a collective noun, comprised of House and Senate members) representatives. Just the Democrats.
We the people did not send Republicans to Washington to take a pass on governing. You have to admit being a Congressional Republican is a great job if you can get it. A decent paycheck, first-rate benefits, a pension if you vest. And no need to work, really. Just stay to the side, read the occasional floor speech drafted for you by your staff, turn up for hearings and, I don’t know, catch up on all those classics you didn’t read in college.
Now, Republicans are not fools. Not at all. The only reasonable explanation for this lolling about is their voters will reward this behavior with a re-election vote and/or their big money contributors will reward this behavior with more big money and/or a job after leaving Congress. You must admit this is completely rational behavior.
Depressingly tragic, too. The exercise of democracy isn’t just for the party in power. It is everyone’s responsibility. That means you, too, Democrats. Including you, too, President Obama.
Our president made three campaign promises directly related to bipartisanship:
Campaign promise #419: Form a standing, bipartisan consultative group of congressional leaders on national security. Meet with the group monthly. Reality: occasional sessions; nothing institutionalized. Assessment: Promise stalled.
Campaign promise #503: Appoint at least one Republican to the Cabinet. Reality: Republican Ray LaHood is Secretary of Transportation. Assessment: Promise kept.
Campaign promise #522: Bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass an agenda that works for the American people. Reality: No longer even the pretense of consultative, collaborate governing. Assessment: Promise stalled, to be charitable, because there are still three years in the presidential term, and time for this to turn around.
The British just demonstrated how to act when faced with the choice of (a) lapsing into a deadlocked government until a new election can called or (b) deciding to find common ground and a viable coalition between bitter campaign enemies, for the good of the country (and, doubtless, to increase the chances of staying in office longer). Could we not take a lesson?
The saddest of all circumstances for we the people would be that partisanship is part of our government’s past. Let’s pull ourselves out of this depressive state, and somehow, someway, encourage our representatives to work harder at working together. Ideas welcome. (Join the League and address this challenge with like-minded people.) LLII.
With the most sincere thanks to the St. Petersburg Times’ Pulitzer prize winning PolitiFact site for the Obamameter, evaluating the president’s performance against his campaign promises, with primary authority for each rating.
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