Our Shrunken Congress!

November 20, 2014

We’re here to talk shrinkage, “the act or process of shrinking.” Now, nothing explains shrinkage better than this exchange from a well-loved sitcom. (Laughing yet? If not, you didn’t click on the link.)

I read The Extraordinary Smallness of Washington—the subtitle is Institutional Shrinkage Marks the Politics and Governing of the Bush-Obama Era—in The National Journal on Tuesday. (The subtitle sent me to shrinkage.) Ron Fournier, the author of the short piece, sums up his premise in his fourth sentence:  This is an era of titanic challenges and tiny politics.

I wonder—and worry—often about our having what it takes to solve our problems. So does Mr. Fournier, who singles out immigration, energy/global warming, taxes and spending, the economy, and health care, noting in each case that the United States has big challenges and no common ground about solutions.

I quibble with some of Mr. Fournier’s formulations—global warming is not, now, a subset of energy policy, if it ever was, and market-driven health care is wrong, for reason I’ll explain on Sunday—but he’s dead-on about no evident ability to address these issues, much less solve them. I’ll see Mr. Fournier and raise him, though, for the United States of America does not exist in a vacuum. Citizens of other nations don’t always agree with our policies (and often they shouldn’t), and many want a piece of the pie we’ve been inhaling as if it will all be gone by sundown. From other shores and north and south of us, people are telling us “It’s not always all about you.”

So yes, we have a teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy microcosm in Washington. Too many little people, strutting around like cocks-o-the-walk, acting as if they have a clue! But we’ve also got a global systems challenge and no international institutions at the ready.

I’m about to shift gears a bit, and need to digress for a moment. Years ago I knew a prominent U.S. Senator, a Democrat from back east. I asked him once about relationships with other senators after retirement. These people are co-workers, but only sort of, and that dynamic interested me. He mentioned a few people with whom he had stayed close and then, apropos of nothing other than our being in Phoenix, he said “you know, we really treated Barry Goldwater badly in 1964.” Then he shook his head and we parted. (My friend was right about Senator Goldwater and how he was treated in the 1964 presidential election.)

Someday, maybe, someone will have a similar exchange with a Republican who was around in 2008-2014. We chose a man to lead us in 2008. He was like us in so many ways:  A moderately religious man, a family man, a man who did not run around on his wife, a man with two nice children, a man who came up the hard the way, and an achiever!

He was different in one obvious way, but he was also different in a more important way. He spoke about big challenges and solving them together. We elected him because of that message, and because we faced monumental challenges at that moment and his opponent was so clearly not up for the job.

So what did the little people do, the cocks-o-the-walk in Congress and their pals on the radio and on cable television? Did they lift even one finger to help? No. They played small, meeting on the new president’s first night in office to plan a strategy for blocking him at every turn. (Details are here.) Too many got so small that they would not even acknowledge that he was born in the U.S.A., and they tried to block him, always.

He’s gotten some things done, this president we elected and re-elected, but can you imagine how much better off we’d be if the little people with whom he must work had stepped up and helped, just a little? (I’m amazed by the regular chatter about President Obama not reaching out enough. After what these people did to him? Really?)

We have so much hard, complicated work to do! We’ve made progress, lots of it, over the past six years, but we’re still all about the hole we’ve been digging and filling, digging and filling, for decades. And if we keep electing little people to serve us as legislators, men and women who are concerned most of all about themselves and their place in the pecking order, expect more of the same, only worse.

P.S. This piece was written several days ago, and was not motivated at all by the issue of executive action on immigration.  That said, the issue and the way in which Speaker Boehner, Leader McConnell, and others have addressed it demonstrates my points very well. We have executive action, plain and simple, because Speaker Boehner refused to bring a bipartisan Senate-passed immigration bill forward for a vote, despite more than enough votes to pass the bill. (He seems to believe he is the speaker for the majority, not the whole House, as his standard is “are there enough votes from my people?”) And the rhetoric is so over the top that it can only be explained by animus!

(For really smart writing about the the law associated with the action President Obama will announce later today, read  Obama Has the Law—and Reagan—on His Side on Immigration by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and Sam Kleiner, from the New Republic on November 18. If the authors’ names are familiar, Dean Chemerinsky attended the Tucson Festival of Books a few years ago, Sam Kleiner interviewed him, and Sam is friends’ Jan and Rick Kleiner’s son. Pay attention to Sam, for he’s going far!)

2 Responses to Our Shrunken Congress!

Leave a Reply