Why Is This Congress Different From All Other Congresses?

Noel Eisenberg - Global Whisperer - The Problem with Congress

Compromise these days is not only impossible – it is apostasy.

The latest failure in Washington, that of the deficit reduction “super committee” to achieve any of its tasks, is merely the most recent example of the institutional dysfunction that grips our government. It should come as no surprise considering how the plasticity of American voters’ views has grown rigid. Compromise these days is not only impossible – it is apostasy. Even the suggestion of rationality is deemed irrational. And that’s saying something, considering the Founders deliberately engineered the system around the concept of “gridlock”.

How did we get here?

Is it simply the natural evolution of our political system – growing ever more paralyzed as unprecedented levels of scrutiny are focused on process by unscrupulous media outlets? Is it the Malthusian growth of the blogosphere, with its unfortunate lack of truth-testing? Or is it just that as a culture we’ve become simplistic, lazy and accustomed to getting our own way all the time?

Maybe the better question isn’t why this is so (we may never really know) but what to do about it. How do we bridge this divide as a country, as a people, in order to find our way back to prosperity and success on the global stage? Politicians like plans, so here’s one with five easy points.

1. End the Hyperbole
First off, stop comparing everyone to Hitler and Stalin, or calling every policy Communist, Fascist, Socialist or all three at once. Let’s be clear: No one is as bad as Hitler or Stalin. Between them, they were responsible for the death or extermination of tens of million people. They helped plunge the world into a nightmare of global conflict for the better part of a decade. Using those standards, even an evil, despicable despot like Saddam Hussein was an amateur. All this is to say, President Obama’s health care bill, designed to drive more consumers into a free-market health system isn’t quite the Devil’s work that its critics make it out to be. Neither was Hermann Cain’s 9-9-9 plan. (Though, funny enough, if you look at it upside-down…)

2. Return to Full Faith and Credit
We need to restore our credibility around the country and in the world at large. Not for free trade deals or for Moody’s ratings but for our daily dealings with each other. There was a time not so long ago when people in Washington completed deals based on trust and handshakes. (Stop laughing, it’s true). One way to help things improve would be for elected officials to aim higher in their personal relations. People all over America still do it. There’s no reason our leaders can’t as well. As a recent White House social secretary recently noted in the Washington Post, elected officials are spending larger and larger amounts of time back in their home districts. Wives/husbands and children are less and less frequently making the move to D.C. as lawmakers eschew homes in D.C. They claim to want to avoid being assimilated into the “Washington culture”, but they are serving to isolate themselves from their co-workers across the aisle. It’s much easier to demonize your opponent when you don’t know his family, or when you’re not obligated to look him or her in the eye across the table at lunch.

3. Jettison Ballast
It’s time to realize that the base of each party isn’t a base – it’s an anchor. The ideologues on both sides are the most passionate and the least flexible. They’re the most vocal and the least likely to listen. Passion is good, but not when that passion becomes a destructive force. The wing-nuts are engaging in games of brinksmanship that border on Vietnam-era “We’ve got to burn this village in order to save it”. It’s up to the moderate centrists (those that are left) to seize the center and pull the ends toward the middle.

4. Turn off the damned TV
No, really – turn it off. TV is corroding our society. Jersey Shore and the Kardashians are ugly, rude and a lot of fun to watch, but these “unscripted” shows can’t hold a candle to the horror show that is the nightly “news”. We need to realize that the electronic news media are not the reporters of old. Walter Cronkite is dead – literally and figuratively. The grizzly veterans of the age of Edward R. Murrow have been replaced in large degree by actors who hold less interest in facts than in promotion. And the sooner we recognize that most of the TV reporters of today aren’t by and large a trustworthy bunch, the better off we will be. They’re arsonists – they like to set fires and watch things burn. Don’t blame them – just stop giving them free gasoline. The fewer people watching the news means the fewer fires they’ll be able to set. And yes, Piers Morgan, I’m talking about you too.

5. Re-District 9
Redistricting is the single most important issue in the nation today. It’s become clear in American politics that if you give people the power to avoid a fair fight – they will. It’s time to end that. California is one of the incubators for an experiment in decoupling the electoral system from the elected. Using a panel made up of ordinary citizens, the new districts will ideally be fairer and more diverse. Gerrymandering is one of politics’ odd quirks and it will be difficult to strip this perquisite from the powerful state house figures that wield it. But strip it we must. Independent commissioners means more balanced electorates. Balanced electorates mean more competitive races every two years. Competitive races will drive challengers and incumbents alike to the center. Centrists will ally with other centrists on both sides of the aisle. And those allies will produce better legislation, more in keeping with the desires of the majority as a result. Medicare, say what you will, like Social Security, has been an incredible legacy for former President Lyndon B. Johnson. Not because of its remarkable stability and long-term benefit to every American, but because both programs were the model of bipartisan legislation and compromise. Civil rights and the social safety net programs all needed the help of the moderate Republicans, like Senator Everett Dirksen, to pass. We should be aiming for a return to those heady days when the equation of 25 + 26 (or 34+33 to overcome filibuster) equaled the passage of a bill into law.

Ultimately, the Greek, Roman, Ottoman and British empires all collapsed for a variety of factors. Before we accept our fate as the latest historical failure, before we accept that our best days are behind us, don’t we owe our previous and future generations a stab at working together for a better future?

I’m fairly certain that a bipartisan majority of my fellow Americans would agree.

Noel Eisenberg is a guest editorial journalist for Global Whisperer.

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