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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