By James A. Kidney
“Govern” is a six letter word, but it is treated as a four letter word in Washington, D.C.
A strong case can be made that there has been no governance on domestic issues since Newt Gingrich promoted the “contract with America” back in 1994, turning up the flames on political partisanship. It is certainly the case that neither party has done much to govern the nation domestically since Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial later in the ’90s. (Adding pharmaceutical benefits to Medicare and passing Obamacare, both of which had serious defects, are the two major exceptions.)
Neither Democrats nor Republicans are interested in governing. Only in getting elected. Then the focus is on the next election.
Republicans have proven this point for their party. They were in control of Congress beginning in January 2011. They criticized everything President Obama did or tried to do for six years, and prevented him from doing much. But did they use their power to do other than complain and obstruct? Clearly not. When the GOP finally had the authority to repeal Obamacare, it had prepared nothing to offer as a substitute despite years of screaming “repeal and replace”. The poorly conceived, mean-spirited ideas that were passed from the House to an equally unprepared Senate were never subject to any intelligent inquiry or review by knowledgeable experts as to either implementation or impact. Declarations of war have been passed with greater deference to reason and wise contemplation.
Admittedly, all that Republicans really want to do is cut taxes and kill government, so they have little genuine incentive to exercise any thought as to how to govern. President Trump, while not the choice of most Republicans in Congress, is an apt avatar for the party in that he doesn’t care about governing, either. The solons of the GOP know what they want and just want to have it. Constituent interests and those of the nation be damned.
The Democrats should perform much better, but they do not. They are adopting the Republican playbook. Dems (and liberals) supposedly believe in centralized solutions to national problems. God knows there are many such problems suitable for federal attention. Not only is health coverage still uncertain and expensive, but we have massive and growing inequality, opioid and other addictions, the continuing crime and economic and social malaise of our inner cities and rural areas, the dominance of a handful or companies in — name your field — without any active concern for their monopolistic impact, and, of course, a failing infrastructure.
But what are the Dems in Congress doing? Nothing much. They are focused on getting TV time to bleat about Donald Trump. Cable news provides plenty of opportunities. Liberals are not demanding much of Democrats, either, other than to “impeach Trump” and pay fawning attention to public demonstrations that attract many but are studiously ignored in the Oval Office. Plus, genuflect to identity politics, despite the absence of much more the federal government can do to make people play nice with each other.
Democrats are in the minority in both houses of Congress. In some respects, this is an opportunity. Why can’t they hold minority hearings on the issues that trouble America and its citizens? Why can’t they call intelligent people representing varied interests in an issue and hear from them what recommendations should be considered for legislation if and when the Democrats are back in charge? Republican congressmen and senators won’t attend, but so what? Maybe some of these hearings might even make TV news or, at least, cause interested constituencies to pay attention. Maybe serious hearings about serious issues will remind Americans that governing is important and can even make sense and solve problems. Maybe the intensity of partisanship might decrease as practical answers are suggested to pressing problems.
For example, Dems say Obamacare should be fixed, not replaced. What fixes are necessary? What do the insurance companies say they need? What do patients want? How can providers be better served? Perhaps most importantly, if the Dems succeed in meeting the demands of 27 million uninsured for health coverage, where will we get the doctors to serve them?
Multiply these kinds of questions by the dozens in areas like economics, infrastructure, etc., and there is plenty of room for Democrats to show the country how they can be the party of governing.
Yes, it is necessary to keep up the opposition to Trump’s craziness. But why can’t the Dems have a few “designated hitters” for that job, while the rest of them in Congress try to show that they can be the governing party again? Pelosi, Schumer and the minority chairmen of the intelligence committees investigating Trump can handle the PR and pressure job on Trump, speaking for the party.
Plus, although Dems are licking their chops at the notion of a Trump impeachment, resignation or replacement under the 25th Amendment, this might well be an example of “be careful what you wish for.” There are still a lot of Americans who vote and think of Democrats as a collection of Hillary Clintons or elite college liberals. While a President Pence would do little to dampen liberal anger at the administration, his cooler approach to the office could eliminate or reduce the fear of voters about voting Republican again in 2018 and 2020. Voter memories are nearly as short as those of cable news anchors. Unless he does actual damage to their personal interests, Trump will be forgotten politically only days after he leaves office.
Democrats, liberals (not the same thing) and the Mainstream Media also are not gaining friends with the often insulting and babyish reaction to Trump’s misfortune. For example, The New York Times op-ed last Sunday featured two columnists (Bruni and Dowd) who devoted part of their precious journalistic real estate to mocking Trump for getting two scoops of ice cream with his pie at dinner while other guests got one. The suggestion was that Trump is madly narcissistic and ignorant of others. That is undoubtedly true, and there are many sound examples of that, but even this moderate liberal thought the ice cream story a poor and childish one. Sadly, it is only a slightly exaggerated sampling of how the commentariat is suffering Trump Derangement Syndrome and demeaning the office of president as much as Trump is doing so. Was there any reason to believe that if a guest asked for a second scoop he or she would not get it? Was there any inquiry whether the White House kitchen knew Trump liked two scoops and gave them to him, knowing that for most one scoop is enough with pie? Is there any reason anyone should care? Nah. But Time Magazine mentioned it. Fair game.
There is a cautionary tale here: Most Americans still want to respect the office of the presidency, especially if it is not occupied by someone they hate. As noted earlier, even under Trump, that accounts for a lot of people. Resorting to insult, petty examples of his behavior, and faulting Trump for characteristics shared by many (love of ice cream and being overweight, in this example, or maybe for going on a little too long with guests about the great achievements of his national security team) is perceived by many as unfair and even cruel. A columnist’s smirking satisfaction with an easy insult is neither professional nor helpful to an important national dialogue. (We concede that Dowd has made a career of the nonpartisan nasty smirk, however. We don’t need more Dowds.)
The Dems are at risk of doing something similar to the media and the ice cream story when they are as impatient as the cable news blowhards are with the flow of actual information. Most forget, or are too young to remember, that Sam Ervin and the Democrats on the Watergate Committee tried hard to show the world that they recognized the gravity of their assignment and acted accordingly. Whether it was greater maturity, the times, or simply strategy, their more cautious criticism and waiting for the evidence to develop, paid off. Few regretted the departure of Nixon when it came. One reason was the sense of bipartisanship in the process. The Republicans may not give up their partisanship, but that is no reason for the Democrats to mimic the pitchfork mob chasing Frankenstein.
“Wait for the evidence” is a good motto for an investigator. Along with “answer the subpoena.”
We don’t know what Trump told the Russians about laptops on planes — which already were the subject of very public reports about planned TSA moves to keep laptops out of airplane cabins. We should find out.
We don’t know if Comey has a memo that says what his friends say it says. We should find out.
It is not clear that the President obstructed justice or did anything wrong by asking Comey the status of the Flynn investigation or vouching for Flynn. He probably did it — the ignorance of form, appearance and ethics is very Trumpian — but was it a crime? We should determine that.
If Comey was fired because he refused to stop the Russian investigation, including Flynn, that may be an impeachable offense, but it is not enough to get most Republicans on board — yet. We need to keep digging and complete the Russian investigations by the FBI, the House and the Senate.
So, the Dems might be well-advised to simmer down a bit. Trump may well damage himself sufficiently to be out by the end of the year. But his political demise is a serious subject that deserves serious treatment. Many Americans — those who are not all-in on Democrats and liberal ideas — want to move a little slower and with a little more respect. It’s not a bad idea regardless of your politics.
In the meantime, most of the Democrats on Capitol Hill might introduce themselves to the notion of governing. They can call it an apprenticeship — for now.
(Ed. note: We have been offline for a few weeks for happy personal reasons and trying to get our bearings as the national news comes closer to a circus than we expected when we started this blog. We promise to become a more regular poster now that we have regained both personal happiness and political balance. This is not intended as a threat.)