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National politics may stand at new low

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Reading that headline last Thursday made me think, “Has our constitutional democracy reached a new low?”

Apparently McConnell’s statement was meant as a threat to Republican senators to fall into line and pass a replacement to the Affordable Care Act.

He might have just as well said, “I’ll work with the devil if you guys won’t work with me.”

Putting aside the politics of the ACA, which has been transformed into perhaps the most polarizing issue of the decade, the deeper issue is can we survive as a two-party system?

The idea of our Congress is to bring together all of our representatives to fashion laws, budgets and the like. For me, the key word is “together.”

For Republicans and Democrats to get on a seesaw of who can create a ruling majority absent the other does not serve the public’s interests.

The Founding Fathers created a bicameral legislative government – that in itself was a compromise engineered by Ben Franklin – to provide the best vehicle to serve the people.

In elementary school I was taught we have a system of checks and balances with the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. Ideally, each checks the other branches so that the interests of the people are upheld.

Like all systems in the real world it is sometimes imperfect. But when that system itself is subverted, then we are on shaky ground indeed.

Today, the stars are in alignment and the GOP holds the presidency, the House and the Senate and has designs on stacking the Supreme Court.

Oh, the motives are pure. We must save our opponents from themselves. Yet when we bend the rules a little more, and then a little more, what happens?

What happens when the other guys get in? American politics is cyclical after all so it is inevitable at some point – if we remain a free society – for the other side to have the upper hand.

Their first order of battle will be to tear down what has come before. We structure the court, gerrymander the voting districts and put a smooth shiny face in the White House.

Such a perfect storm as we have today is indeed rare. But in this struggle for political supremacy, is there real thought to what kind of America we are building?

History is often seen through rose-colored glasses. President Abraham Lincoln preserved the Union and freed the slaves. Yet he tried to suspend the writ of habeas corpus (the right to fair trial) in the first days of the Civil War but was frustrated by the Supreme Court.

Likewise President Franklin Roosevelt, faced with people starving during the Great Depression, wanted to pack the Supreme Court with additional judges to see his legislation pass judicial review. Some of the legislation he got passed had been stymied by the court.

In retrospect, these presidents may have been acting for the “greater good,” but the perspective of today is it was just as well we did not suspend basic concepts of the republic for temporary political gains even in the direst of times.

My advice to Sen. McConnell would be: Do negotiate with the other side – lest the pendulum swings back and a worse condition arises.

Besides, it might set a precedent: the Congress working together as a body.


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