By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Finally, a bit of relief in the latest political wars. The two major presidential candidates did tell a few jokes and stop the attacks during the evening at the 67th annual Al Smith Dinner in New York. This fall has certainly been a depressing time for many political observers and that should include everyone of voting age in America.
The Democrats don’t seem to have a specific plan of improvement for the country and the top man is not going to support the coal industry. Locally, there is no way we can support such a platform. Meanwhile, the Republicans at virtually every level are doing little except running against the current president. Mitt Romney has proposed a five-point plan for his administration and Obama has reviewed his rescue of the auto industry and success against terrorism, but in reality it remains to be seen what either side will do for the majority of Americans once the election is over.
Veteran CBS newsman Bob Schieffer will moderate the final debate between President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney on Oct. 22 and the 75-year-old media veteran knows his way around Washington. In a recent interview on PBS with Jim Lehrer, who also moderated an earlier debate between Romney and Obama, the two discussed a very disturbing trend that probably reveals as much about what either candidate is (or is not) going to do in the next four years as any “inside information” given out this fall.
It is a tradition that on Thursdays when Congress is in session there are two rooms where political caucuses meet and have time to mingle. According to the report, that tradition has been abandoned for hard-line party togetherness. Democrats stay in “their” lunch room and Republicans stay on “their” side and apparently never the twain shall meet. Schieffer has been a political newsman for half a century and says this is unprecedented.
Within the lifetime of many readers of this newspaper, the leaders would fairly roast each other in daily debate but “after hours” settle their differences and somehow work out compromises that kept the government operating on a fairly sound basis. Since World War II — with the exception of the McCarthy madness, both Republicans and Democrats from Harry Byrd to Everett Dirksen to Howard Baker and Patrick Moynihan have fought each other but been able to come together at “crunch time” for the good of the country. Through the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter (well, almost), Reagan, Clinton, George H.W. and George W. Bush, and Obama, that has generally been the case.
Now, however, it is becoming more painfully clear that the parties carry this policy of separation on to the floor of the House and Senate. For example, leaders encourage all members to vote the party line and now that seems to include every piece of legislation being offered. The trend, according to the newsmen, is that for those who break ranks, so to speak, support for their projects dry up. Money seems to disappear, and legislators find it difficult if not impossible to get their own legislation to the floor for discussion. Hard line, to be sure. This type of stance has given rise to frustration around the country leading to movements like the Tea Party. Citizens are simply frustrated with the lack of cooperation in Washington.
If indeed the Congress continues to maintain such a stance then the legislative gridlock which has paralyzed the budget process more than once during the last two years will prevent any president from accomplishing very much. Without the help of the House of Representatives and Senate no president is going to be able to achieve great things. The president’s greatest challenge — and for several it has been a great gift — is being able to persuade the congressional leaders to work together and come up with legislation that the Congress will support. When that happens, the history books record it as greatness. When it doesn’t, then the president ends up being not much more than someone who lives in the White House, travels on Air Force One, and does little to improve the nation.
No chief executive has earned a blank check but without congressional cooperation, it will not matter a great deal who wins the election because the American people are not going to benefit. It is evident over the past couple of years that Congress is not willing to practice one of the greatest elements of a representative democracy — compromise. Winning the election is only the beginning. We as a nation will not improve until some leader wins over the Congress, too. No joke.
Larry Hypes is a teacher at Tazewell High School and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.