Need more enthusiasm about governance, gridlock

Published 1:22 am Monday, April 7, 2008

By By Tray Smith
Barrack Obama is running a presidential campaign based on his ability to break the partisan divide, despite having never worked to pass a significant bipartisan initiative. Conservative columnist Cal Thomas has joined with Democratic Party strategist Bob Beckel to write “Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America.” University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato has gone further, calling for radical changes to the U.S. Constitution in his latest book, “A More Perfect Constitution.” These political thinkers are not alone; it seems the only truly bipartisan effort in Washington is to create more bipartisanship. Many political players have jumped onto the bipartisan bandwagon.
Yet, bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship is an unworthy goal, if not a counterintuitive effort. The breadth of support for a particular issue is not necessarily an indicator of its value. Oftentimes, in fact, the two become counterproductive to one another.
The goal of the reach across the isle and play nice movement is, its supporters tell is, to break through the gridlock and get things done. However, getting things done is not as important as what gets done.
The fact that there is a political movement in this country devoted to bipartisanship as its first priority and getting things done as its second is indicative of how construed our politics have become. Most of these concerns have become apparent since 1994, when Republicans seized control of Congress for the first time in 60 years and began blocking President Clinton’s agenda. While it is true that our politics have become more polarized since then, the American people should ask themselves what they would rather have: a Congress controlled by one party through an overwhelming majority for more than half a century, or a narrowly divided Congress prone to close votes, rancorous debates and controversy.
Conservatives became angry when, armed with a five-seat majority in the U.S. Senate, they were unable to confirm all of President Bush’s judicial nominations in 2005. They attempted to correct their failure by amending Senate rules to limit the minority party’s ability to block legislation. Many of the Senate Republicans own members halted that effort; John McCain was one of them. Today, conservatives take issue with McCain for his role in preserving Senators’ right to filibuster judicial appointments. They shouldn’t. With the Democrats now controlling the upper chamber by margins only likely to expand, Senate Republicans may soon come to rely on that filibuster to block unworthy jurist from the nation’s highest courts.
The filibuster is only one tool minority party’s can use to block legislation. There are others at their disposal. As they employ those methods to achieve favorable political ends, the minority will inevitably be accused of “obstructing” Congress. But our system is based on the premise that passing no law is better than passing bad law. Obstruction, partisanship and debate help reinforce that premise.
Conservatives who for a decade in the majority came to disdain the rights we have preserved for minority parties in our country are now enthused about utilizing those rights. They should also become enthused about our system of governance and gridlock. For 232 years, it has served our country well.
Tray Smith is a political columnist for the Atmore Advance. He is a student at Escambia County High School and can be reached at tsmith_90@

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