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Romney’s Ideal Field

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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.

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