by Dick Newbert –
“No democratic government can last long without conciliation and compromise”
The Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin
While the federal government remains “sort of” shut down (although Congressional and White House personnel continue to get paid while visible programs affecting average folks, children and veterans are always targeted in such situations) and our national debt continues to soar above $16 trillion (not counting unfunded obligations which would more than quadruple that figure) … our Government remains intractably gridlocked.
- President Obama won’t “budge”, refusing to compromise while fear mongering; telling Americans, “the fiscal sky is falling”.
- Senate Majority Leader Reid arrogantly refuses to entertain any negotiations and overtly excludes even the Vice President’s participation.
- John Boehner appears more concerned with placating his most conservative House members and keeping his job as Speaker.
- House Republicans continue to demand meaningless votes to repeal Obamacare.
- Senate Democrats do little more than blindly mimic their party’s talking points.
- Re-election and control of one or both Houses of Congress remain the primary concerns of most members of both Parties.
- The Media, with its doom-and-gloom headlines and countdown clocks, exacerbates the public’s’ anxiety.
Why have we reached these impasses?
- With 44% of voters not registered as either a Republican or a Democrat, the major parties have become controlled by their most extreme activists. Thus, their nominees are increasingly ultra-liberals or Tea Party conservatives.
- Congressional districts are drawn by Republican and Democratic politicians primarily concerned with creating or saving “safe” seats for themselves and/or their party.
- House and Senate rules give far too much power to their respective leaderships, effectively blackmailing members of their parties into “towing the line” or running the risk of losing their plush committee or other assignments.
- Too many members of Congress, as well as the President, have taken the approach that, “it’s my way or the highway”, refusing to discuss or negotiate controversial issues with members of the “other” party … frequently using the excuse, compromising means surrendering their principles.
Some reasonable solutions:
- Permit open voting in all federal primary elections and caucuses.
- Eliminate politics in redistricting, requiring such committees to include proportional representation of third party, independent and unaffiliated voters and have the results independently reviewed and approved.
- House and Senate chambers always seat Republicans on one side and Democrats on the other. This forced segregation exacerbates the “us” and “them” mentality permeating Washington. Reorganize House and Senate seating alphabetically, by birth date or some other random mechanism. Perhaps members would discover those in the other party aren’t such bad folks and may actually share many ideas and solutions with them.
- Vastly reduce the authoritarian powers of the leadership. They are inherently undemocratic and disenfranchise both junior members of these bodies and their constituents.
- Congressional term limits.
- Require all members of Congress and senior White House/Cabinet officials to take a refresher course in the “founding period” in American history.
Our Founding Fathers must be rolling over in their graves. First, their vision of a government of citizen legislators has given way to career politicians who’ve unilaterally enriched themselves with salaries, benefits and perks far exceeding any realistic expectations of the vast majority of their constituents.
The President and Congress have clearly forgotten the survival of a democratic republic is built on a willingness of its leaders to negotiate and compromise even when the individuals involved hold strong personal convictions.
Had the representatives to the Continental Congress who had bitter disagreements and contentious debates with one another over towering issues (i.e., federalism versus states’ rights and representations, slavery, the inclusion of a Bill of Rights), not been willing to make significant concessions, our fledgling Republic would have likely foundered and never come into existence as we know it.
There is no place for inflexibility or extremism in a functioning democracy!