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POSTED AUGUST 20, 2012: Thank you, Mr. Bob Schieffer, for generously acknowledging my article "Campaign 2012 Isn't the Nastiest, Just the Most Covered" on U.S. News & World Report's "Debate Club" blog in your Sunday commentary on Face the Nation (video). I am truly honored. Thank you.
POSTED OCTOBER 15, 2013: It's Not Personal
How can they do this? How could the House reject a bipartisan deal last night that was forged by Senate leaders only forty-eight hours from the debt ceiling deadline? How could Speaker John Boehner let the nation default?
The same way Speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed a " widespread financial collapse " and a more than 700-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average when the financial bailout plan (TARP) failed to win passage on September 29, 2008. She did not have 218 votes. Not from the 235 Democrats who then comprised the House majority. Not from a bi-partisan coalition that was supported on the Republican side by President George W. Bush and House Minority Leader John Boehner.
It comes down to what Newt Gingrich explained on Face the Nation last Sunday:
"The president owns the executive branch. The president appoints the cabinet. The president is surrounded by staff. In the House and Senate, the leaders are actually elected by the people they are leading...we don't do the American people a service when we pretend that the Congress is supposed to be orderly and rational. It is not. It's not the nature of it.”
Put more bluntly, the executive branch is a dictatorship and Congress is a democracy. All in the executive branch report to the President. None in the Congress actually report to party leaders. Members are accountable to constituents. And importantly, all members are made equal—each either represents a district of about 700,000 people (House) or one state (Senate) in the nation.
What this means is that while Speaker Boehner may wish he could “fire” a few of his rabble-rousing right flank and build his own governance “dream team”, he can do no such thing. Only the people in a member’s district can eject that representative from the House.
And this, despite it being a couple of weeks from Halloween, is where things get tricky.
Though most Americans (not to mention political pundits) are content to blame elected officials for their lack of leadership and inability to compromise, we fail to see that, as James Madison explained, “a zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points…; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power…have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”
Said another way, fighting is what parties do and partisans side with their team. As a Pew Research survey from last week revealed, “A majority of Democrats (58%) say it would be unacceptable for Obama to agree to cuts or delays in the Affordable Care Act, even if this is the only way to resolve the shutdown soon. Roughly the same share of Republicans (54%) says it would be unacceptable for GOP leaders to agree to any deal that does not include cuts or delays to Obamacare.”
So even while “nearly three-quarters (74%) of registered voters would like to see most members of Congress defeated,” most partisans like their party. Case in point, yesterday’s Pew survey reported that, “currently 86% of Democrats offer a favorable assessment of the Democratic Party, compared with 77% of Republicans.”
We, the people, are divided; thus, we, the Congress, are divided. Speaker Boehner is “herding cats,” not directing lemmings. Democracy is no easy task. Remember: it’s not personal; it’s everybody.
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