Twice this week I've heard the statement that cooperation in Congress isn't as bad as it's ever been. No, sir. That distinction would go to the years right before the Civil War, when 37-year-old Rep. Preston Brooks whacked Senator Charles Sumner repeatedly about the head with a cane, leaving him unconscious and stricken with a lifetime of brain trauma.
Bloodshed on the House floor -- how far from this are we?
Watching Meet The Press last Sunday, the only thing not making it an SNL skit was Bill Hader in costume as David Gregory. To hear Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell harp on about how unreasonable the other side was/ is/ will be made me wonder what new powers of negotiation were on display, or sadder still why they were purposefully trying to come off like such 'but-they-did-it-first'-ers. Gregory had it right when he showed them each footage of themselves taking the exact opposite stance on the issue at hand (filibuster reform) from a few years back. Each made quick work of skating from their changes in stance ("I'm glad we didn't do it back then and that cooler heads prevailed"), but it was a stark example of how politically motivated their opinions were, that as long as it was what was right for their prospective parties at that time, then that was the way it should be handled. Well folks, that's just bullshit.
Way back when, some ambitious lawyers built this country, some smart people started talking about how bad it would be if political parties were afforded too much power. Our only Independent president, George Washington, wrote:
Another smart guy, John Adams, wrote this:
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.
There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.
Yet here we are. When Richard Schiff and I started making Chasing The Hill to try and build bi-partisan bridges, we met with many current and former electeds, strategists and other D.C. folk. For the most part they all said the same thing: that the massive polarization of our nation was caused and/ or reflected in our Congress. The chambers were built with wide aisles between the parties -- like a Southern wedding where no one crosses from bride to groom -- and the gap just keeps getting wider. At lunch yesterday with the head of a leading non-profit (who shall go unnamed to protect their IRS status), he said, "It's ridiculous that a country as big as America should be represented by two parties. Israel has 10 political parties in some form or another and they have 7 million people, as opposed to our 320 million. It makes no sense at all." Agreed.
Is there a true place for a third -- or God forbid a fourth or a fifth -- party in U.S. politics? There has to be. Senator Reid got one thing right last Sunday when he said that the current U.S. approval rating for Congress "lower than North Korea's." Super. So our Congress isn't quite as bad as it was right before 600,000 Americans shot each other to death, but it's still worse than North Korea. Success!...(?)...(?!)
People have asked me if I'm insane for running for Congress. Seriously -- they've asked if I'm on pills and if my dosage has been changed (no and no). They say, "Congress is awful." Well, I don't think it is. I agree with what Governor Gray Davis said in our show, that most elected officials are good people trying to do the right thing, but that doesn't make the news so you don't hear about it. I think that in the pragmatic battle to keep mortgages paid, kids in college and offices held, that some hyper-vocal electeds have drifted toward their bases as fund-raising is easier there, soundbites more likely to be printed, more anger fueling more money fueling more ads fueling more votes fueling reelection. This isn't what it's supposed to be about. The job of 'representative' was built with two-year terms, hoping for high turnover and offering a voice for the people. Today, the bipartisan group No Labels is announcing nine new pieces of legislation with over 80 members of Congress in support from both parties (and one Independent). That is welcome news, but we need more voices in the U.S. Congress and those voices need to be versed in more than just two languages.
US Congressional Candidate (I) - CA33
Creator, Chasing The Hill