Congressional deadlock, created by lock-step partisanship and an unprecedentedly rigid opposition party, has been extensively analyzed, with no apparent resolution. In the midst of wide-spread citizen economic misery, many Americans have simply concluded that this is the way things are...and apparently always will be. In Kurt Vonnegut's memorable phrase: "So it goes."
But this isn't the way it has to be. There is a better way to govern and that better way characterizes much, if not most, of American history. It certainly characterized the Senate of the 1970s when Democrats and Republicans found common ground, called the national interest, and held themselves accountable for achieving it. This better time was brought to mind this week when I had a unique opportunity to remember those times.
Esquire magazine convened a commission of two Republicans, Jack Danforth (Missouri) and Bob Packwood (Oregon), and two Democrats, Bill Bradley (New Jersey) and this writer. We were challenged to balance the federal budget by 2020. Our moderator was Lawrence O'Donnell, former Senate staff director and now of Morning Joe. The results of this experiment will be available in the December issue of Esquire, out by mid-November. I urge you to read the results.
We achieved a balanced budget within a decade, but we also creatively addressed stabilization of Social Security, controlled health care costs, dealt with long-delayed military reform, and addressed energy conservation and climate challenges. Cynics will say: "That's easy if you don't have to seek re-election." But why should statesmanship be considered cynically? We were able to achieve our goals because each of us put the interests of our nation ahead of ideology and party. That is the way government used to work. I know from personal experience. And there is nothing, save rabid ideologues and selfish interest groups, to prevent it from working that way now.
It is now commonplace, including on this site, to attack "the government", as if it were some distant entity none of us is responsible for. But a majority of Americans elect their president and their members of Congress. If they don't achieve what we demand of them, perhaps we ought to get our mirrors out and ask ourselves whether we all might share some blame.
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