So, you’re afraid of the Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate?
What really should scare you is this: Nearly two-thirds of voters didn’t bother to do their jobs in the mid-term election. And this: Unprecedented amounts of secret, “dark money” from undisclosed donors was legally — legally! — used to fund these Congressional campaigns.
Taken together, these two pernicious trends promise a perfect storm of misrule.
It’s been 72 years since voter turnout was this low. How utterly convenient that at the same moment, at least $216 million covertly, but lawfully, was given to candidates by God only knows who, 69 percent of it to Republicans.
When a “democracy” sinks so low as to invent legal justifications for hiding the identity of donors who give money to lawmakers, it’s game over, people. Ditto for what happens to a democracy wherein citizens refuse to vote, ignoring their constitutionally assigned responsibility for governing.
Yes, yes, I know: Our politicians are contemptible. Umm … so whose fault is it that we elect venal lawmakers?
Perhaps we truly are too stupid to govern ourselves, as autocrats always claim. We do know this: Democracies cannot work if citizens won’t vote intelligently. And democracies cannot work if lawmakers won’t compromise.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Nowhere is it written that self-rule is the default, pre-ordained human condition. Democracy first was tried in ancient Greece. It really lasted only two generations before people lost interest and corruption set in. More than 2,000 years passed before anyone tried it again.
One likely reason democracies have been so rare is that they require compromise. And where are we with that? Think kindergarten sandbox.
If you watched President Obama’s post-election press conference, you saw a reporter stating that he’d been told by Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky that McConnell had been invited to speak privately with Obama only a couple of times during the entire six years of Obama’s presidency. The thrust of the reporter’s question to the president was whether Obama’s aloofness from political opponents had damaged his chances for getting his policies enacted.
Clearly caught off guard, Obama sighed deeply. That unscripted sigh telegraphed that the implied criticism — i.e., Obama disdains the necessary work of personal persuasion of his opponents — had hit a nerve. Obama responded that he’d be happy to share a drink of Kentucky bourbon with McConnell, then added that he doesn’t know what McConnell drinks. Ouch.
Not selling it
If Obama were a Lyndon Baines Johnson, say, he’d know exactly what the leader of the political opposition likes to drink and would have shared that drink long ere this. But this president isn’t LBJ. Obama himself conceded as much when he later confessed on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he may have been too focused on “getting the policy right” and not enough on selling it. Duh.
Six years on, isn’t it a little late to be spinning through the corridors of power on political training wheels, Mr. President? Hello?
McConnell usually looks like he’s sucked lemons for breakfast. But on Nov. 5 he was all smiles and gentlemanly geniality, sounding for all the world like a grown-up who now wants to cooperate in governing the country. He’s miraculously been transformed into the good cop.
You surely will recall that this is the selfsame man who in 2010 announced that his party’s most important governing goal was to prevent Obama from having a second term. McConnell has led the obdurate effort to thwart Obama at every turn. But his own considerable responsibility for the Senate’s historic dysfunction didn’t prevent McConnell from blandly stating: “The Senate in the last few years basically doesn’t do anything.” Butter would freeze in this man’s mouth.
McConnell blames Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, the pugnacious pugilist from Nevada, for the gridlock paralyzing the Senate. For his part, Reid graciously blames the Democrats’ loss of the Senate on Obama. Enough already, gentlemen!
The role of Republican bad cop falls to Speaker of the House John Boehner, a man much given to weeping. He has a lot to cry about, given that he’s nominally in charge of his party’s wing nuts in the Crackpot Caucus. Members of that caucus don’t much believe in government, and certainly not in compromise. They seem to have arrived in Congress under false pretenses, taking taxpayers’ money for work they don’t intend to do: govern. Must we really resort to paying our lawmakers by piecework, like seamstresses?
And for our part, we in the 4th Congressional District almost sent our own lawmaker to the House of Representatives’ Republican Crackpot Caucus, former pro football player Clint Didier. Okanogan County voters actually preferred Didier to the winner, former state representative and state secretary of agriculture Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside.
Newhouse, a hops and fruit grower with a degree in agricultural economics from Washington State University, is no stranger to politics. His father, Republican state senator Irv Newhouse, spent 34 years making laws in Olympia. The state senate building is named for the elder Newhouse because he was a master parliamentarian and skilled at negotiating political compromises.
Let’s hope Dan Newhouse, who regrettably neglected to campaign in the Methow, is as dedicated to sensible governance — and as skilled in crafting the compromises necessary to achieve it — as his father was.
Solveig Torvik is a former Washington, D.C., political correspondent for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. She lives in Winthrop.