Typical Republican Politician as seen by
at First Sight
When it comes to
it's enmity unbound.
Politician as seen by Republicans
Whatever happened to
getting along together?
By CHUCK McFADDEN
There is more distrust, naked enmity, partisanship and take-no-prisoners ideology in statehouses and the national capital today than ever before, political observers* tell us.
Republicans and Democrats regard each other as The Great Satan. They dont talk to each other as much as they used to. They dont compromise as much. The level of stridency has risen and taken on an almost desperate note.
Its too bad. The publics work isnt being done as well as it was when politicians werent heaving bricks at each other. Or at least, not quite as many bricks.
Republican Gerald Ford, who was the GOP leader in the House of Representatives before going on to even greater heights, once told me of how kindly he had been treated by John McCormack, the Democratic leader in the House. Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, adversaries in the 1964 presidential election, were on a first-name basis in the Senate and had drinks together.
When I was covering the California Legislature in the 1970s, Republicans and Democrats had a usually cordial relationship. You could find them jovially swapping stories after hours at Frank Fats, a restaurant a few blocks from the Capitol.
Ronald Reagan, the Republican governor back then, did not get along with Robert Moretti, the Democratic leader of the California Assembly. Moretti regarded Reagan as a featherheaded actor who had no business being governor. Reagan thought Moretti was a political hack. After a while, though, they gritted their teeth and started talking to one another. I think each wound up with a grudging respect for the other, even if they never were soul mates. They certainly found they could work together.
My boss for part of that time was Wilson Riles, the state superintendent of public instruction. Wilson was a staunch Democrat, although the office was nonpartisan. He made a special point of walking over to the Capitol on Gov. Reagans final day in office to bid a fond farewell to him. Reagan, standing amid packing boxes, greeted him delightedly. They were genuinely glad to see each other.
What has caused comity to disappear?
Most agree that there are at least three reasons, or maybe two and a half.
First, redistricting. Legislative districts are today drawn in such a fashion that they are tailor-made for the incumbent, whether that incumbent is a Democrat or a Republican. If everyone is safe, its easier to get a redistricting bill through the legislature and signed by a governor.
In a safe district, with its lopsided registration, candidates for the dominant partys nomination appeal to the party faithful, who believe members of the other party are depraved. Whoever does the best job appealing to the lowest common party denominator wins the primary and gets the nomination. The nominee then goes on to win the general election. He or she arrives in Sacramento or Columbus or Springfield with a rigid set of convictions and no desire to compromise. Surprise! There are many people from the other party on hand who came from their own safe districts! They are just as unyielding, but ideologically opposite! Result: gear-grinding in the halls of government.
Second, term limits. These unbending lawmakers dont spend enough time in a legislative body to become institutionalized. There is less time for the partisan edges to be rubbed off and pragmatic considerations to soften ideology.
Reason two-and-a-half, in the minds of many, is political careerism. But you can get an argument here. On the one hand, holding elective office in major states is no longer something you do while taking time away from your insurance agency. Its what you do, period. Its how you make your living. You spent your term-limited time in office looking for another office to run for when times up. So you have an inclination to be a little more ruthless and partisan because your livelihood is affected.
On the other hand, people usually find a way to work things out if it has to do with their daily bread. And if youve been in politics all your life as a careerist, it seems likely that you would realize the advantages of compromise and have some empathy for your fellow careerist across the aisle. After all, there were a lot of people in the 40s, 50s 60s and 70s who were steeped in politics but who nonetheless got along with members of the opposite party.
Whatever the causes, politics has become more shrill, more contemptuous of moderates and less able to do the peoples work.
Some are trying to come up with a remedy. One possibility being talked about in California is an all-inclusive primary ballot. Everyone would be on it--Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Free Love--everyone. The top two vote getters, no matter who they were, would face off in the general election.
The idea is that to appeal to the greatest number of voters from all political stripes, you would have to abandon rigid ideological purity. We would have a legislature of moderate, pragmatic, reasonable people. Thats the theory. But no one has figured out how such a ballot would make things any different unless it were coupled with a redrawing of district lines to make them less one-sided for one party or the other. Doing that would be tough.
But people of good will, Democrats and Republicans, are thinking and talking about what can be done. Lets hope they are not drowned out by a jihad from the blind party loyalists who hold the commanding heights right now.
*"Political observers are anyone the writer wants them to be. They could be politicians talking to a reporter in a bar. Most frequently, however, observers are other reporters.
©2003 by Charles M. McFadden. The McFadden caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The cartoon is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA.
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