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Michael Shank

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The Club for Growth and the Demise of Our Democracy: A Look Beyond Lugar's Loss

Posted: 05/14/2012 1:19 pm

Republican Sen. Richard Lugar joins the ranks this month of his ousted moderate colleagues and predecessors, from former Sens. Chuck Hagel and Lincoln Chafee to former Reps. Wayne Gilchrest, Chris Shays and Sherwood Boehlert. Frankly, it is a little depressing. Wait, more than a little. A lot.

When I first came to Washington D.C., in 2006, I interned with Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, who at the time represented Maryland's first district and its beautiful eastern shore.

Despite having only ever voted for Democratic or Independent elected officials, I was so impressed with the congressman that I defended him publicly after Club for Growth went after Gilchrest with a $600,000 ad buy.

Writing for a Hill newspaper, I suggested that Gilchrest was "a veritable Lee Hamilton in terms of statesmanship and civility," and that "this Maryland Republican's style harkens back to a Congress of yesteryear where contemplative conversation regarding state and foreign affairs was commonplace".

This is true of Sen. Lugar as well. Both Lugar and Gilchrest stuck their necks out on countless measures, frequently risking much in order to encourage Congress to communicate with adversaries, not invade them, or to preserve the environment for the next generation by addressing climate change.

Lugar and Gilchrest, furthermore, knew that sound domestic and foreign policymaking was not found in sound-bite rhetoric but thoughtful, deliberative dialogue with a vast variety of voters. Yet Congress is slowly losing the deliberative bearings to which it once belonged.

To be clear, I am not simply suggesting that we need more bipartisanship. That is the wrong frame. What I am suggesting is that we be willing to approach each issue with nuance and contemplation, irrespective of party stance. This is why I have coauthored op-eds with members of Congress from both parties based on unique stances on specific issues. Whether it was my coauthor with Republican Congressman Bartlett on the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, my coauthor with Republican Congressman Gilchrest on fixing income inequality, or my coauthor with Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks on the Middle East peace process.

All three of these aforementioned op-eds required courageous stands by each Member of Congress. It was not politically palatable within their parties to raise their voice on these issues in this way. But they did so anyway. Morals and principles guided them, not party platforms.

This is what we need more of and I am concerned that with the tide of Super PACS beginning to swell we will see even less congressional decision-making based on moral compass and an increasing majority of decisions based on political premise and financial prowess. This heralds the death of deliberative democracy that represents the peopled majority. But perhaps it died a long time ago. Either way, Lugar leaving is not only a loss for the Senate but a sad sign of the times.

Michael Shank is US Vice President at the Institute for Economics and Peace. Michael is also on the board of the National Peace Academy and is an Associate at the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict. From 2009-2011, Michael served as a senior policy advisor for US Congressman Michael Honda (D-CA). Follow Michael on Twitter.

 

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