Is the Only Way to Improve the Gridlock in Congress to Clean House?

On February 15, Democrat Indiana Senator Evan Bayh announced he wasn’t seeking a third term. He cited strident partisanship and the constant gridlock in congress as reasons. It’s true, months do go by and nothing substantial gets accomplished. In an interview on The View he said, “It shouldn’t take a constitutional crisis or attack on the country to get Democrats and Republicans listening to one another and working together.” He added, “Politics has almost become tribal.”

This phrasing of tribalism has been used more frequently instead of partisanship. It means something much more severe. One definition of tribalism is, “the act of assigning assumptive qualities to anyone that one perceives to be not of one’s own group and the rationalizing of divine or benevolent motives behind abhorrent actions undertaken by one’s own group.”

More practical problem solving is necessary. Listening and compromising is necessary for action. There seems to be far too little dialog today. It’s difficult to name people in either the Democrat or Republican party who are willing to compromise. Without compromise, there can be no substantive action and this is hurting Americans.

Perhaps the route of the problem is the pervasive media eager to cover disputes or lobbyists or even special interest groups. What most agree upon is that there is a problem.

It seems Washington, DC changes even the most idealistic people after a few years. We need some enthusiastic new blood of both parties to facilitate real discussion compromise and action. I interviewed Sean Duffy on my radio show, Critical Thinking in the Real World, today. He is running against Rep. David Obey who has served in Congress since 1970. It will be a tough battle as Obey has a great deal of money, clout and connections. Yet, Duffy is willing to take on this fight because he believes Obey is out of touch with his constituents. He also is frustrated by his actions and said, “David Obey believes we can borrow, spend, and print our way out of this crisis. I think he and his friends in Washington are creating a greater crisis. The consequences of government spending for bailouts, budget increases, bloated entitlements and ‘stimulus’ spending will be staggering and unsustainable debt that will act as a dead weight around the neck of our economy.”

Career politicians are no good for the country. Term limits are a great idea. If Members didn’t have to worry about constant re-election cycles, they could spend more time on the people’s business rather than on securing their own jobs.

When I worked for Rep. Steve Gunderson from 1994 to 1996 as my first job out of college, I organized the group meetings called the Tuesday Lunch Bunch of moderates Republicans who then met with moderate Democrats. My responsibilities included delivering them pizza, soda, dessert as well as keeping track of attendance. That was one of Former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s best initiatives. Imagine having 30 to 40 Members of Congress talking together for an hour each week. As Senator Bayh said, that simply isn’t happening now. There was a lot of compromise then even with Democrat President Bill Clinton and a Republican majority in Congress. It is possible to have that today.

I have to believe that both Republicans and Democrats today really do want to make a positive difference. That is at least when they are first elected and before they get over-taken by Washington, DC and all that corrupts. Their ideas might be different, but they have to somewhere in there believe in the common goal–to serve.

True Exchange of Ideas Could Lead to Less Partisanship

In  President Obama’s State of the Union address this week he acknowledged  the partisanship that has so frustrated Americans and prevented political action by calling it a “poisoned political era.”

Today he went to a meeting of Republicans.  Obama took questions and defended his positions for more than an hour at the House Republicans Annual Meeting in Baltimore.  It was televised live and that makes it unlike those that former President George W. Bush attended with Democrats during his administration and the one that Obama did last year.  Television provides a transparency that we so desperately need.  After all, seeing is believing and far too often we rely of what others say about an event, speech or document instead of watching, reading and deciding for ourselves. 

During today’s meeting, Republicans voiced anger that their ideas and proposals were ignored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and said that this culture has pervaded his administration. Republicans handed Obama a book of all their proposals and alternative solutions to current legislative initiatives.  Obama acknowledged fault on both sides, but said he has read Republican suggestions and incorporates the good ones. 

Obama said not having more communication between the legislative leaders of the major parties was “a failure on my part” and that he would try to do more on that issue this year.

Republicans also confronted the president for breaking promises on transparency referring to the many commitments he made during his campaign about televising debates on healthcare.   He defended this by saying most congressional hearings on healthcare were televised on C-SPAN, but did admit it was a legitimate criticism and took responsibility. 

Obama said he was having fun towards the end of the meeting.  You know what?  An intellectual exchange of ideas is fun.  That’s what argument really is.  It’s not name calling and pointing fingers.  We can disagree in the country.  That’s what makes America so great.  In order to be critical thinkers, we must talk and listen to those with different ideas.  Partisanship has prevented this and perhaps today opened the door to a more productive era.