At some point, Congressional Democrats will need to join hands, focus on what can be achieved in the major Build Back Better legislation, pass the bill, and rejoice in the signing at the White House. The various factions and the competing ideas of what programming to push for and how to fund it will need to give way to governing.
Part of the problem at achieving that end can be seen in the way too close polling in the upcoming Virginia governor race.
While crafting legislation is certainly a part of the governing process it can also be viewed by the public, with the past month in Washington as evidence, as to why there is a strong perception that the dysfunctional nature of our politics has the upper hand.
One of the hurdles that continue to be a major stumbling block among Democrats is the need for compromise. In large funding packages, such as this bill, no one is going to get everything desired. All have to give up something to gain something. That is a political fact.
It does not take long to scan this blog and know I have some core ideas and strong convictions about policy concerning a raft of issues in the country. I would love to have everyone see the landscape from my perspective. But in a two-party system, and with varying degrees of factions within each party, it becomes essential to broker consensus and commit one’s self to govern as effectively as possible.
That does not mean one ever needs to fall for extreme positions, but does mean that when it comes to items like Medicare expansion or climate change proposals, or child leave there can, and should be, ways to trim here, add there, and walk away with a deal.
In line with the need for better working at the art of compromise, there must also be a better attempt at bipartisanship. Granted, that is more difficult with a Republican Party that has drifted so far that it has, at times, hit the fascist wall. There are some progressives in the Democratic Party who also make it most challenging to find a reasonable path forward with the goal to work together.
Last night Senator Joe Manchin waxed about the way Washington once worked.
Manchin also reminisced at the dinner about the good ol’ days of bipartisanship — “wining and dining” Republicans and Democrats on his houseboat — and evenings full of singing and good cheer. He told a story about bringing together two senators in particular: The first time he had Tom Harkin on the boat, Harkin, ecstatic to be there, told him he’d never been on the Potomac at night. Then, as Manchin told the room, “here comes Ted Cruz and [Harkin] said, ‘I’m getting off this damn boat!’ And I said, ‘Come on Tom, it’s going to be fun! You’ll be fine!’ He said, ‘Get me another glass of wine!’ … Before the night was over I couldn’t separate them.” And then they introduced legislation together a few days later.
“We just don’t know each other,” Manchin complained of the current Washington climate.
I do not just post that portion of Manchin’s words to fill space. I actually believe what he says about bipartisanship.
I have long suggested that one of the problems with modern-day Washington is the lack of friendships among members. Not casual encounters on the capitol subway system, but real friendships. Since there is a need for continual fund-raising, and then the constant back-and-forth every weekend to the congressional district, there is no time to build the needed bonds that would well-serve our nation at times of high political tension.
The types of friendships I speak about are spelled out in the writings of such books as Katharine Graham’s Washington. Over the years I have likened the lack of connectedness among members of Congress to satellites floating about, all serving a purpose but not being linked in a meaningful way.
Friendship is lacking in Washington.
Now it seems that more people are noticing what I have argued for years.
Back in the golden days of Washington entertaining, hostess-with-the-mostest Perle Mesta was said to have remarked on the ease with which she was able to draw guests to her parties: “Just hang a pork chop in the window and they’ll come.” I’d like to see what Perle would have to hang in her window now to get a government official to one of her storied dinners — a minor rock star? A major PAC check? Washington doesn’t go to dinner much anymore, and it’s bad for the country.
I wish to conclude this post with another slice of the past. Politics and governing are never easy. But as the short story below underscores it also need not stop our progress as a nation.