Apparently, a 747 full of cocaine disintegrated over my neighborhood recently, for there is a vast amount of strange white stuff all over the ground. Or maybe it's snow; I forget.
It seems like it was long ago, but it's been less than a week since Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) announced here intention to leave the Senate. That got me thinking a little bit. A few years ago now, we almost moved to Maine, and in doing my due diligence, I checked out the political situation. Uber-tea party governor Paul Lepage had yet to be elected, and the representatives in the state are the usual mixup of both parties. But the senators Snowe and Collins stood out to me. Both Republicans, but neither one of them overtly right wing....and both with the kind of common sense that seems to be unique to New England. It's the sort of image that our own Scott Brown (R-MA) wants
for himself, but will never achieve.
At the end of the day...I decided that while I might not agree with everything Snowe and Collins did, I could probably live with them as my Senators.
But over the past couple of years now, things have gotten far worse. Senator Snowe said it herself in her farewell speech
...the atmosphere is Washington is now so dysfunctional, it's impossible to get anything done. Compromise doesn't exist anymore, and it's "My Way or the Highway", all the time.
During the Federal Convention of 1787, James Madison wrote in his Notes of Debates that “the use of the Senate is to consist in its proceedings with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom, than the popular branch.” Indeed, the Founding Fathers intended the Senate to serve as an institutional check that ensures all voices are heard and considered, because while our constitutional democracy is premised on majority rule, it is also grounded in a commitment to minority rights.
Yet more than 200 years later, the greatest deliberative body in history is not living up to its billing. The Senate of today routinely jettisons regular order, as evidenced by the body’s failure to pass a budget for more than 1,000 days; serially legislates by political brinkmanship, as demonstrated by the debt-ceiling debacle of August that should have been addressed the previous January; and habitually eschews full debate and an open amendment process in favor of competing, up-or-down, take-it-or-leave-it proposals. We witnessed this again in December with votes on two separate proposals for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
As Ronald Brownstein recently observed in National Journal, Congress is becoming more like a parliamentary system — where everyone simply votes with their party and those in charge employ every possible tactic to block the other side. But that is not what America is all about, and it’s not what the Founders intended. In fact, the Senate’s requirement of a supermajority to pass significant legislation encourages its members to work in a bipartisan fashion.
One difficulty in making the Senate work the way it was intended is that America’s electorate is increasingly divided into red and blue states, with lawmakers representing just one color or the other. Before the 1994 election, 34 senators came from states that voted for a presidential nominee of the opposing party. That number has dropped to just 25 senators in 2012. The result is that there is no practical incentive for 75 percent of the senators to work across party lines.
Washington used to be about the art of compromise, and indeed even fellowship over what they had to accomplish. President Reagan and Speaker O'neill famously tangled over the laws of the day, but just as famously hoisted brews together once the day's business was done. Even my own sainted Senator Kennedy was dear friends with far-right Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Kennedy was instrumental in cutting through local red tape to get the Belmont Mormon Temple built.
But all of that is past. There's probably no one point where the road turned, but once it did, it's easy to see who locked the wheel and stood on the gas. Of course, now he's running for president, but that's a blog for another day.
I heard something on the radio last night that gave me pause...about where the United States seems to be going. In the early days, we were indeed a loose collection of states. It took the Civil War to unify us into a common country. But now over a century later, the balkanization continues. Again, back to Senator Snowe, she said it...."It seems that we are more and more Red or
Blue...instead of Red White and Blue". I have to point to that "take the country back" mentality. I wrote about it a while ago
I think this is what they want to take us back to; a collection of vaguely autonomous states that have no collective feeling for each other...where there is no common good, no shared responsibility or sacrifice, or indeed...no America as we all grew up to understand it.
The question is...are we too far gone to save it? Every leader that's been elected has lamented the lack of "bipartisanship" on Capitol Hill these days, but nothing is being done to change that mentality. No offense, but is it the Baby Boomers? Can they simply not lead? Or is it something else, money, power, influence, or what?
It's a difficult question to answer, and I'm afraid that there is no easy solution. Perhaps we have become so balkanized that it's impossible to reach middle ground. So, with "The Lorax" in the news this weekend, I'll leave you with another Seussian observation to ponder."The Zax"One day, making tracks
In the prairie of Prax,
Came a North-Going Zax
And a South-Going Zax.
And it happened that both of them came to a place
Where they bumped. There they stood.
Foot to foot. Face to face.
“Look here, now!” the North-Going Zax said, “I say!
You are blocking my path. You are right in my way.
I’m a North-Going Zax and I always go north.
Get out of my way, now, and let me go forth!”
“Who’s in whose way?” snapped the South-Going Zax.
“I always go south, making south-going tracks.
So you’re in MY way! And I ask you to move
And let me go south in my south-going groove.”
Then the North-Going Zax puffed his chest up with pride.
“I never,” he said, “take a step to one side.
And I’ll prove to you that I won’t change my ways
If I have to keep standing here fifty-nine days!”
“And I’ll prove to YOU,” yelled the South-Going Zax,
“That I can stand here in the prairie of Prax
For fifty-nine years! For I live by a rule
That I learned as a boy back in South-Going School.
Never budge! That’s my rule. Never budge in the least!
Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east!
I’ll stay here, not budging! I can and I will
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!”Well…
Of course the world didn’t stand still. The world grew.
In a couple of years, the new highway came through
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax
And left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks.