Politics: Campaign 2012

Romney’s Ideal Field

Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
June 1, 2011, 3:26 p.m.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) at­ten­ded the Tea Party con­ven­tion in Rich­mond, where he said 10/9 that he ex­pects GOP­ers to win back the House ma­jor­ity on 11/2 but said “the oth­er side is not go­ing quietly.”

Asked about a pos­sible WH ‘12 run, Pence said he “he will not give that any con­sid­er­a­tion” un­til after the midterm elec­tions.

Pence said the GOP “needs to em­phas­ize not only fisc­al dis­cip­line but mor­al val­ues.” Pence: “The prob­lems we have as a na­tion are not just polit­ic­al, but mor­al. We need to talk about hon­esty and in­teg­rity and an hon­est day’s work for an hon­est day’s pay.”

Pence said “he does not ex­pect a lead­er­ship fight” if GOP­ers win con­trol of the House, say­ing he will back House Min. Lead­er John Boehner over House Min. Whip Eric Can­tor, whom he said “would make a fine ma­jor­ity lead­er” (Whit­ley, Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch, 10/10).

Ex­plain­ing her sur­prise de­cision in Feb­ru­ary not to seek reelec­tion, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, had what could be called a Mid­night in Par­is mo­ment.

In the Woody Al­len film, Owen Wilson’s char­ac­ter, Gil, is ma­gic­ally trans­por­ted back to 1920s Par­is, a place and time he has longed to in­hab­it. There, he falls in love with a wo­man who in­stead ro­man­ti­cizes Par­is back at the turn of the cen­tury, and wishes to live there and then — though prom­in­ent Parisi­ans of that era in­sist the city’s Renais­sance was best.

On MS­N­BC’s An­drea Mitchell Re­ports, Snowe fondly re­called “my first years in the Sen­ate.” Then, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Bob Dole, R-Kan., would tell sen­at­ors who dis­agreed “to work it out,” Snowe said. “And that’s the point. We’re not work­ing out is­sues any­more.”

But if Snowe were trans­por­ted to 1995’s Sen­ate, might she dis­cov­er Dole pin­ing for the Sen­ate of the late 1960s? And didn’t sen­at­ors then long for the hal­cy­on Sen­ate of the 1940s and ‘50s, where com­prom­ise was so rampant that a bi­par­tis­an co­ali­tion eas­ily blocked civil rights laws?

To be sure, Con­gress has grown stead­ily more po­lar­ized since the mid-1940s as messy New Deal co­ali­tions were slowly re­placed by more neatly dis­tin­guished re­gion­al and ideo­lo­gic­al blocs. Vari­ous stud­ies show party dis­cip­line has ris­en, and ideo­lo­gic­al dis­tance between av­er­age mem­bers of each party has reached levels not matched since around 1880. Snowe, and the le­gion of con­gres­sion­al crit­ics who have made be­moan­ing dys­func­tion as fad­dish — and as tire­some — as sus­tain­able eat­ing or en­vir­on­ment­al­ism is among celebrit­ies, are right about that.

What con­gres­sion­al crit­ics struggle with is say­ing why that is bad.

Some of them take as a giv­en that today’s law­makers are fail­ing their con­stitu­ents. In fact, mem­bers are im­ple­ment­ing the agen­das of groups whose views dif­fer sharply.

The case could be made that in­creased po­lar­iz­a­tion means law­makers are bet­ter rep­res­ent­ing back­ers’ views — es­pe­cially on is­sues, such as where the tax bur­den falls, in which voters have com­pet­ing in­terests and a “na­tion­al in­terest” is neither clear nor rel­ev­ant.

In­stead of con­sid­er­ing such ques­tions, many crit­ics fo­cus mostly on pro­cess, not out­comes, as George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity polit­ic­al sci­ent­ist John Sides writes. Those who be­moan the fail­ure of the con­gres­sion­al su­per com­mit­tee, a pro­cess prob­lem, rarely note that it left in place an agree­ment to cut fed­er­al spend­ing by more than $2 tril­lion. Crit­ics com­plain that law­makers con­sult less, so­cial­ize less, and lately tend more to­ward brinks­man­ship. They point out the well-doc­u­mented in­crease in Sen­ate fili­busters as evid­ence of dys­func­tion. That is all pro­cess.

When they do fo­cus on res­ults, crit­ics dis­cuss the fail­ure to pass bills they per­son­ally sup­port. They cite no in­de­pend­ent meas­ure of how well Con­gress serves na­tion­al in­terest.

In a March 1 Wash­ing­ton Post op-ed, “Why I’m leav­ing the Sen­ate,” Snowe called for law­makers to seek the “com­prom­ise,” “con­cili­ation,” “con­sensus-build­ing,” and “com­mon ground” that she called the only means to “res­ults for the com­mon good.”

Snowe does not cite a single bill or policy out­come she would like to see res­ult from all that har­mony. Her column ex­em­pli­fies what crit­ics of the late Post colum­nist Dav­id Broder’s laud­ing of any bi­par­tis­an meas­ure once dubbed “high Bro­der­ism” — the tend­ency to treat bi­par­tis­an­ship as an end in it­self. Snowe, in fact, ex­pli­citly calls bi­par­tis­an­ship it­self, not its fruits, “a most hon­or­able pur­suit.”

Cur­ing can­cer and law en­force­ment are hon­or­able pur­suits. Bi­par­tis­an­ship is a noun. It is neither good nor bad and it is no an­ti­dote to bad policy. Wash­ing­ton’s wor­ship of the polit­ic­al cen­ter strikes some Europeans, to whom our polit­ic­al spec­trum already ap­pears ex­cess­ively nar­row, not to men­tion many lib­er­al and con­ser­vat­ive voters, as ab­surd.

As of­ten as mem­bers now tout a 1983 So­cial Se­cur­ity deal between Pres­id­ent Re­agan and House Speak­er Tip O’Neill, D-Mass., as a shin­ing ex­ample of bi­par­tis­an deal-mak­ing, many of the pro­grams that com­prom­ise the mod­ern Amer­ic­an wel­fare state were im­posed, just like the 2010 health care law, primar­ily by par­tis­an ma­jor­it­ies. Proph­ets of con­gres­sion­al dys­func­tion warn of the ad­vent of a sys­tem where one party must gain con­trol of the White House and Con­gress to en­act their agenda. Like in the New Deal or Great So­ci­ety?

In Mid­night in Par­is, (spoil­er alert!) Gil even­tu­ally settles for the present. It would be a cyn­ic­al mis­take to treat the Amer­ic­an polit­ic­al sys­tem as not im­prov­able. But at some point, Con­gress needs law­makers who are will­ing deal with Con­gress as-is, and who have the stom­ach for reelec­tion fights.

If Snowe, as she said, feels par­tis­an­ship means she can no longer be “pro­duct­ive” in the Sen­ate, she is right to step aside for someone who might.

What We're Following See More »
Nuclear Bombers Preparing to Go Back on 24-Hour Alert
9 hours ago

"The U.S. Air Force is preparing to put nuclear-armed bombers back on 24-hour ready alert, a status not seen since the Cold War ended in 1991...Putting the B-52s back on alert is just one of many decisions facing the Air Force as the U.S. military responds to a changing geopolitical environment that includes North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear arsenal, President Trump’s confrontational approach to Pyongyang, and Russia’s increasingly potent and active armed forces."

Senate Intel Postpones Testimony by Cohen
2 days ago
Senate Rejects Effort to Nix SALT Tax Changes
3 days ago

"Senate Democrats on Thursday failed in their first attempt to save the state and local tax deduction, which helps many residents of California and other high-cost states reduce their federal income tax bills. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-47 to reject an amendment that would have prevented the Senate from considering any bill that repeals or limits the deduction as part of a planned tax overhaul."

Lewandowski Meets with Senate Intelligence Committee
3 days ago

"President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appeared on Capitol Hill for a closed-door interview with the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the matter. Lewandowski is the latest senior official in Trump's orbit who has met with the committee as part of its investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign."

Some Members Seek to Wrap Up Russia Investigations by Year’s End
4 days ago

"A growing number of key Republicans are sending this message to the leaders of the congressional committees investigating potential Trump campaign collusion with the Russians: Wrap it up soon. In the House and Senate, several Republicans who sit on key committees are starting to grumble that the investigations have spanned the better part of the past nine months, contending that the Democratic push to extend the investigation well into next year could amount to a fishing expedition."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.