DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, May 24, 2013

Can't We All Just Get Along?

I
While the White House and Capitol Hill continue to be awash in escalating division and discord, a 4-member panel of ex-Congress and Senate members easily reached a consensus concerning the best way to alleviate the DC political fighting that has led to gridlock, dysfunction, and a record low opinion of national government.

The key is to form better personal relationships which, in turn, would go a long way to returning proper political function to Washington, the former legislators agreed at a recent program at the National Archives entitled Congress and the White House: Partners or Foes?

"I'm a believer that everything is relationships," said Steve LaTourette (R-OH), who became a Congressman in 1995. "Then we did have the ability to talk with one another. A lot of those relationships I don't see today. When I left, everybody was afraid to leave their foxhole and give an inch. They are true believers. You're not able to buy them off. You're not able to reason them off."

Former Democratic Congressman Vic Fazio (D-CA) agreed. Fazio who first came to Washington as a staffer in the 1960's said he had witnessed steadily deteriorating relationships over the ensuing years. "In the 1960's, the divisions were around whether you were a Rotarian, a Kiwanian, a Lion or a Soroptimist, and there were very few of them," Fazio said with a laugh.

Now the situation is much different. "A lot of people don't reach out - they just don't do it," Fazio said. "When have we ever seen a point when we have so little respect for those we disagree with. If you are in the other party, you embarrass the administration and keep it up. If you don't, you're setting yourself up for fragging in your primary."

The belief was much the same for the 2 former Senators on the panel - Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Larry Pressler (R-SD).

Lincoln, who first came to Capitol Hill as a staffer in 1982, said at that time there was "more collegiality, but you could see the things that were being frayed."

Lincoln said better personal relationships must be established.  "It's much harder to be ugly or rude to someone when they are a friend," she maintained. "Leadership is not about control, but about creating an environment where people can come together."

Pressler, who served in the Senate from 1979 until 1997 after 4 years in the House of Representatives, cited several changes that have led to a worsening of relations, both between the Republicans and the Democrats and between the President and Congress.

"The Presidential leadership style has changed. They don't go to Congress anymore and fight it out," Pressler said. "The president must go to Congress."

The high cost of campaigning and public apathy also play a role, Pressler said "The American public has grown more apathetic and special interests have developed," he said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The special program was presented with the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress. This was the 4th such program we have attended at the Archives. During those events, it has become abundantly clear that it was much easier for former Congressman to make sense when they no longer had an obligation to their party nor faced an election fight. Pressler gave yet another example of that behavior. "I wouldn't have said this when I was in office, but everybody's taxes will have to be raised to get us out of this (the current financial and budget crises facing America)." OK, maybe we should try this. We should throw the current representatives out and replace them with their retired counterparts. It appears they have learned much since they left Capitol Hill.

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