Enough of This!

Published: May 2, 2013

By Jim Lichtman
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Here’s Republican Senator Pat Toomey explaining why expanded background checks — an issue 90 percent of Americans support — went down to defeat.

“In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”

New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte faced her own constitute fury in town hall meetings back home after she voted “no” on the Toomey/Manchin gun bill.

But here’s the real question members of Congress need to ask themselves: “Are you there to solve problems, or are you there to gain political advantage?”

That question is posed by Norm Ornstein, political scientist and scholar at, the generally regarded conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute.

PBS Journalist Bill Moyers recently asked Ornstein and co-author Thomas Mann, Ornstein’s counterpart at the Brookings Institute, about their new book, It’s Even Worse Than it Looks, and explain why Congress is failing us.

“… if you look at the gun issue, the background check,” Mann says, “so much of the focus has been on the four Democrat apostates who drifted away from their party.

However, as Mann points out, “Forty-one of 45 Republicans voted ‘no.’ That includes people from states that wouldn’t naturally be a part of a big gun culture. What’s the reason? It’s the tribalism we described in the book that continues. If he’s for it, we’re against it. We’re not going to give him a victory, even if we were for it yesterday. And I’m afraid that pathology is still a driving force…

“Sadly,” Mann says, “divided party government, which we have because of the Republican House, in a time of extreme partisan polarization, is a formula for inaction and absolutist opposition politics, not for problem solving.”

“…I know how hard you both have worked to be bipartisan, and to work with Democrats and Republicans,” Moyers says, “but you were very blunt in the way you came out… [You] named names and pointed fingers. You wrote, [in The Washington Post] ‘The two parties are not equally to blame because the Republicans have become extreme both… ‘in terms of policy and process.’ And you’re saying here today, a year later, that’s still the case?”

“It’s very much the case,” Mann says. “… there is a body of scholarly research that has demonstrated this rightward march of the party, both among elected officials, but also rank-and-file Republicans. And the strongest, most extreme of those, the Tea Party people, have pulled the others back toward them. It’s a reality, and it’s not just ideological difference either. They begin with those differences, but then it’s the strategic hyper-partisanship, what Norm referred to earlier: If Barack Obama is for something, we have to be against it because he’s not a real American.”

Let me just offer a bit of a caveat …” Ornstein adds. “First, we’re not saying Democrats are angels here. Plenty of flaws there. But I also hold out still some hope for the Senate. You have a number of Republicans in the Senate, and this has less to do with ideology than with focus. Are you there to solve problems, or are you there either to pursue a radical agenda or to gain political advantage? Everybody’s going to look for political advantage.”

“So look what’s happening,” Moyers points out. “Senate Republicans are filibustering and blocking scores of executive and judicial nominations, as you point out in your new preface; they’re delaying the confirmation of others. They’re still willing, as you said last year, to use any tactic, no matter how dangerous and destructive, to damage the President and to force its will on him through a form of policy hostage-taking. You say that this policy hostage-taking was devised by this group, calling itself the ‘Young Guns. Who are they?

“They are Eric Cantor they are Paul Ryan, and the third is the Republican whip Representative [Kevin] McCarthy of California,” Mann says. “They laid out, before the election, a strategy to take hostage the full faith and credit of the United States by threatening not to raise the debt limit to accommodate previous decisions made by Congress, and signed by the president. It’s hard to imagine a more destructive action that could be taken.”

“So who wins, and who loses, when we have this deadlock and dysfunction?” Moyers asks.

“Well, first of all,” Mann says, “the public and future generations really do lose. We have serious problems, short and long term, in the country. We’re going to have to figure out how we can compete in a global economy where not just low value but high value jobs may end up elsewhere. We’re going to have a radically different workforce as the population changes, not only in terms of having more African American, Asian American and Hispanic Americans making up a part of that workforce, but as the population gets older and lives longer.

“I think in political terms, I just don’t see a Republican Party that continues down this path. And I’m not alone in that. The Jeb Bushes of the world, and the Haley Barbours of the world, and the Mitch Daniels of the world, and the Chris Christies of the world see it too. If you move off the mainstream and pursue a radical ideology, and if you say, ‘We’re just not going to make any movement at all,’ in some of these issues, eventually voters are going to say, ‘Enough of this.’ ”

Based on the very vocal reactions New Hampshire Senator Ayotte received at recent town hall meetings following her “no” vote on gun control, the new senator will have to buckle down and do something to improve her image in the eyes of constituents. Granite state voters take their politics very seriously and they don’t like to be crossed. So, it will be interesting to see how well she listens and responds to voters between now and 2016 when she comes up for re-election.

Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey is one Senator I have recently followed more closely primarily because he has shown a greater willingness to press for more bipartisan agreement. Results from a recent Quinnipiac Poll found that Toomey’s approval ratings are the highest they have ever been as a direct result of his work on gun control legislation; legislation, which the poll found, is supported by 85 percent of Pennsylvanians.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer,” John F. Kennedy reminds us, “but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

If every member of Congress resolves to act in good conscience; if each puts the interests of the people ahead of special interests and the party; if they become willing to do the right thing in spite of the political consequences, then we will begin to see a Congress that understands what their duty truly is.


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