Thursday, September 7, 2017

Washington Deal-Making

Senator Everett Dirksen's collaboration with President Lyndon Johnson in passing the 1964 Civil Right Act is justly famous and a staple of historical TV drama. But those of us who are old enough to remember that are also old enough to remember when that was the way government generally functioned. Of course, political parties campaigned against each other, although then still more or less at set intervals. Meanwhile, in between those campaigns, congressmen and presidents did what they had been sent by the voters to Washington to do. They governed - more or less successfully, more or less effectively, more of less, in the country's long-term interest, but they governed. And it surprised no one when leaders of both parties worked together to craft legislation, when members of both parties voted to pass bills, and when some members of both parties voted in opposition. All that, of course, was before the late-20th-century, early-21st-century resorting of the American electorate and the corresponding transformation of political parties into competing teams, for whom policy differences are merely mascots for the main purpose of each party which is to reflect its constituents' hatred and disdain for the other half of the country.

All this is on display again today in the hysterically vile reaction of Republicans and conservatives to President Trump's "deal" with the Democratic congressional leadership to accept their proposed timetable to continue funding the government and to raise the debt ceiling in conjunction with Hurricane relief. To listen to the hysterical reactions of Republicans and conservatives one would think that the President had endorsed higher taxes for millionaires, legal status and a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, and (while at it) maybe also single-payer Medicare for all!

In fact, the deal at issue is on a relatively small matter - something that not that long ago would simply have been a matter of legislative routine.  That the timetable the Democrats proposed might give their party some strategic advantage when these issues resurface in three months (something President Trump may or may not have realized or cared about) is plausible proposition, which Republicans and conservatives might reasonably be expected to be upset out. But the nature and intensity of the reaction goes way beyond such strategic and tactical considerations, which themselves might actually suggest some serious interest in legislating.

On the contrary, however, what the hysterical reactions really suggest is an aversion to any negotiation or compromise with the other party, which, of course, makes perfect sense if the purpose of our contemporary political parties (or of one of them at least) is simply to serve as a megaphone for hatred and disdain for everyone else.

I wish we would abandon the commercial language of "deal-making" in favor of the more traditionally political and hence more morally uplifting language of legislating and governing. But if our transactional president's desire to make a "deal" can more us however slightly in the direction of at least some legislating and governing, then so be it!

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