Was anyone really surprised with the recent failure of the "Super Committee" to find consensus on a debt reduction/increased income/tax reform package and move this country forward given the utter gridlock that has taken over and paralyzed the legislative process for months? With built-in automatic budget cuts of $1.2 trillion scheduled to kick in January 2013, no doubt we will see further jockeying to either postpone, reshuffle or eliminate them entirely. It makes one wonder what has happened to the elected representative model of legislative compromise that has been the bedrock of our democratic system for almost a quarter century. Ironically, even in 1776 our founding fathers sought common ground on issues including the very composition of Congress that has evolved into the stagnated body we endure today, which Ben Stein compared on CBS's Sunday Morning show this morning to a group of zombies.
According to a study of voting practices in the Senate over the past thirty years conducted by CBS News and the National Journal, moderates have been disappearing at drastic rates ever since 1982, as reflected by the table below which categorizes liberals as BLUE, moderates as YELLOW and conservatives as RED.
YEAR BLUE YELLOW RED
1982 10 60 30
1994 29 36 35
2002 45 9 46
2010 45 0 55
Not only does this study confirm the total absence of any centrists in the Senate today, it also reveals a marked trend toward conservatism during this period which has been obvious to anyone who follows the news. But even during Ronald Reagan's presidency there was at least a spirit of cooperation and compromise because of the existence of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans who actually enjoyed socializing on a personal level with their counterparts. Although they may have fought heated battles in the chamber over policy issues, when push came to shove they recognized the absolute imperative of achieving legislative progress to avoid the very stalemates that have been the norm for the past several months. However, in today's world such interaction with one another seems to be taboo, and personal assaults seem to be the order of the day. But the over-riding question is why does this poisoned atmosphere exist? Matt Cooper, Editor of the National Journal believes it may be a result of:
1. Redistricting along more partisan divides.
2. Special interest groups which "pound" Senators to vote a particular party line even if they may represent a more moderate district.
3. Influence of highly partisan media which "stovepipe" their message to the exclusion of other views.
Let me add a fourth, MONEY, either through direct campaign contributions, unlimited funding of tax exempt organizations with set political agendas or personal gifts. So, is it any wonder that the Super Committee was destined for failure from the very beginning?
What is interesting about this poisonous divide is the fact that the fastest growing group of voters today is independents, who tend to be more moderate and centrist in their political views. Also, I find it interesting that you now hear rumblings about the formation of a Third Party and even a newer effort known as Americans Elect whose purpose, as reported by Krissah Thompson in The Washington Post, is to hold a political convention via the Internet to place a third presidential candidate on every state ballot in 2012. Could this approach possibly tap into that huge reservoir of centrist voters and break the current gridlock in Washington? I have no idea, but you can learn more about their effort at http://americanselect.org. In addition a host of really drastic measures may be necessary to mend the current sad state of affairs and restore a sense of true public service for the common good among our elected officials, including:
1. Forbid lobbying on Capitol Hill altogether. Elected representatives with the help of their paid staffs should be able to figure out for themselves what legislation is best for America. *
2. Outlaw paid staff members from ever becoming lobbyists. *
3. Outlaw gifts of any kind to elected officials. Simply put, the ethics law can be written in two words: "ACCEPT NOTHING"!
4. Encourage legislators to quit signing silly pledges.
5. Establish term limits for all members of Congress.
6. Shorten campaign periods.
7. Fund campaigns with tax dollars.
8. Eliminate the Electoral College.
9. Somehow temper the partisan media.
10. Enforce the laws against tax exempt organizations funding political activities, or write new ones.
* Even Jack Abramoff, the former king of lobbying, agrees something has to be done in these areas (re: his fascinating November 6th interview on CBS's "60 Minutes" at http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57319075/jack-abramoff-the-lobbyists-playbook/).
In short, until major reforms, whether those listed above or others, are established to create a more level playing field for all who desire to run for office the opportunity to do so, nothing will probably ever change to break the current gridlock and allow for the return of the centrists to help balance the political extremes that exist today.