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What Happened To Civility in the U.S. Congress?

February 21, 2006 - 1 Comment

I had brunch with a US Senator this weekend and he said that the relationship between parties had gotten so bad in DC that the only issues likely to transact in the Senate this year were the things they “have” to do, i.e. budget and appropriations. Healthcare? Education? Public safety? Oh, those things likely have too much agreement to get anything done. If progress is made on any of these issues then the Republicans get credit because they are in charge of both houses of Congress — that the Democrats badly want back in the ’06 elections. And if legislation is passed with the help of both parties, then the Republicans can’t continue to bash the Democrats as stonewalling on the issues that the American people care about. Let’s face it, it’s good for fundraising. For both sides.I worked in the US Senate (not too, too long ago) when there seemed to be more reaching across aisles to pass bills and get stuff done. There seemed to be respect among colleagues. They could fundamentally disagree on the approach, but it was a diagreement based on fundamentally, true beliefs and not for political posturing. It was, in a word, civil. Where does the end of this current spiral downward begin? When is the beginning of the end of the caustic approach to “deliberative” government? It will likely take a leader to publicly reach out to the other side and say, “let’s forget about the R’s and the D’s next to our names and work together as Americans.” There was a time after 9/11 when this seemed possible. What happened?

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  1. What happened? If you read Molly Ivins, she makes a good argument that the root cause is gerrymandering. Once upon a time, voting districts were somewhat regular in shape. As a consequence, elected officials had a diverse constituency to serve. The old-time pols had to develop compromises in order to serve their constituents. Now elected officials have to stake out polarizing positions in order to serve a uniform constituency. Interesting theory ... makes sense to me. And it would certainly explain the current blue vs. red phenomenon.Neither party is able to raise themselves above the fray, unfortunately. Former President Bill Clinton tells a sad story about the healthcare debacle in his administration. He asked Bob Dole to author a healthcare bill, knowing that Dole and one of his key staff members truly cared about the issue. Dole told Clinton to have the administration develop the bill, and said they would work out the compromises. After the administration sent their plan to Congress, there was very viable compromise legislation from the Republicans; until their party decided that if they let Clinton succeed in passing universal healthcare, the Democrats would have a hold on the White House for years to come. There went healthcare -- another victim of you-lose-I-win politics.The only kind of leader who could publicly reach to the other side"" would need to be a true moderate and independent in actions. Someone willing to cross party lines and party affiliations. Those are the people we need to be electing."