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“Polarized Congress Will Ignore Pope’s Plea”: We Are Living Through A Deeply Polarized Era In Which Compromise Is A Dirty Word

In a more generous political climate, an adorable little girl who gave a letter and a hug to Pope Francis could make a difference. In an era with a more pragmatic Congress and a less Balkanized electorate, 5-year-old Sophie Cruz could break through the gridlock around immigration reform.

But we are living through a deeply polarized era in which compromise is a dirty word, listening to those with whom we disagree is seen as weakness and respect for different opinions regarded as betrayal. Pope Francis’ gracious address to Congress, in which he urged compassion toward “foreigners,” won’t change that. Neither will a cute little girl.

The pope’s embrace of young Sophie has flashed around the world, carried at the supersonic speed of social media. As he made his way down the National Mall in the Popemobile on Wednesday, he spotted her trying to break through his firewall of security guards and beckoned for her.

She handed him a letter — accompanied by a delightful drawing of the pope with children of different races — pleading for a comprehensive immigration reform that might save her parents from deportation. Though she is a citizen (so far, at least, since Donald Trump has not yet had his way on birthright citizenship), her parents crossed the border from Mexico illegally.

Her well-written letter and her flawless recitation of it for reporters were no accident. She and her parents, who live in Los Angeles, went to Washington with a group of immigration activists. They apparently chose Sophie as likely to get the pope’s attention because of his well-known affection for children.

Their strategy hearkens back to the days of the civil rights movement, when activists scoured the landscape for well-scrubbed and presentable symbols to show to the nation. That’s quite understandable. When an oppressed group has the opportunity to present itself on a grand stage, its leaders seek to make a good impression. And that in no way diminishes Sophie’s charm.

She gave moving testimony to the anxiety and insecurity created by the threat of deportation, writing to the pope: “I would like to ask you to speak with the president and the Congress in [sic] legalizing my parents because every day I am scared that one day they will take them away from me.”

But those voters who are willing to be persuaded by the hopes and dreams of 11 million undocumented immigrants already support changing the law. According to a recent CBS poll, 58 percent believe they should be given citizenship, while another 10 percent believe they should be granted legal status. That’s a substantial majority who support bringing those immigrants out of the shadows.

The Republican Party, however, has been captured by the xenophobic minority following Donald Trump, with his denunciation of Mexicans as “rapists” and “murderers” and his insistence on deportation for millions. Little Sophie won’t change their views. Neither will the powerful preaching of Pope Francis.

“In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants,” he told Congress.

In a different political climate, that message may have moved Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic, who teared up during the pope’s address. But he seems cowed by the nativists in his restive caucus, and he has refused, so far, to force a vote on the comprehensive immigration reform plan passed by the Senate two years ago.

Our political system is paralyzed, for now, by the fears and bigotry of a few. And little Sophie can’t change that.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, September 26, 2015

 

Editor’s Note: House Speaker John Boehner announced his resignation, effective October 30, after this piece was filed.

September 27, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Immigration Reform, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Ultimate ‘Blame Obama’ Column”: The Myth Of Obama The Tyrant Will Live On In The Conservative Imagination

Michael Barone is a colossal hack (not a total insult in my vocabulary), but not a big conservative ideologue. He rarely strays from the comfortable conventions of Beltway Republicanism. So when he comes up with something astounding, you have to figure it may be in tomorrow’s talking points all over the GOP Establishment.

His astounding idea is that Barack Obama is responsible for the signs of hatred towards said Establishment–including, of course, people like his own self–among the party faithful. For that matter, Obama is responsible for Hillary Clinton’s troubles, too.

In this presidential cycle, voters in both parties, to the surprise of the punditocracy, are rejecting experienced political leaders. They’re willfully suspending disbelief in challengers who would have been considered laughable in earlier years.

Polls show more Republicans preferring three candidates who have never held elective office over 14 candidates who have served a combined total of 150 years as governors or in Congress. Most Democrats are declining to favor a candidate who spent eight years in the White House and the Senate and four as secretary of state.

Never mind that on the Democratic side the supposed beneficiary of this hatred of experience is a guy who’s been in public office for 32 years, or perhaps (if he runs) Obama’s own vice president, who’s been in high office in Washington for 42 years. But don’t let me distract you from Barone’s line of argument:

Psephologists of varying stripes attribute this discontent to varying causes. Conservatives blame insufficiently aggressive Republican congressional leaders. Liberals blame Hillary Clinton’s closeness to plutocrats and her home email system.

But in our system the widespread rejection of experienced leaders ultimately comes from dismay at the leader in the White House.

Watch in awe as he plants that axiom deeply in the column and then races past the gates of delirium!

Republican voters are frustrated and angry because for six years they have believed they have public opinion on their side, but their congressional leaders have failed to prevail on high visibility issues. Their successes (clamping down on domestic discretionary spending) have been invisible. They haven’t made gains through compromise because Obama, unlike his two predecessors, lacks both the inclination and ability to make deals.

Where was Barone in 2011? Or for that matter, in 2009 when Mitch McConnell announced his conference’s goal would be to make Obama a one-term president?

[A] president who came to office with relatively little experience has managed to tarnish experience, incumbency and institutions: a fundamental transformation indeed.

Now I can understand why Republicans psychologically would prefer to disclaim any responsibility for the apparent madness that has overtaken big elements of their own party. But blaming Obama for, say, Donald Trump is so laughable that I’m amazed Barone could bring himself to suggest it. Wouldn’t you say the decades that conservatives have devoted to delegitimizing government and demonizing compromise might have a little more to do with this year’s revolt than Obama’s refusal to go along with the repeal of his major accomplishments and betray everybody who voted for him?

There is one thing Barone does convince me of, it’s this: if you thought the GOP habit of blaming Jimmy Carter for every bad thing that happened for many years after he left office was bizarre, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The myth of Obama the Tyrant will live on in the conservative imagination for many years to come.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 16, 2015

September 17, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Establishment, Republicans | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Literally Since Day One”: GOP Hostility Towards Compromise Runs Deep

When an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found earlier this year that a plurality of Republican voters believe GOP lawmakers compromise too much with President Obama, it seemed hard to believe. Congressional Republicans have refused to work with the Democratic White House on anything, literally since Day One. Maybe respondents didn’t understand the question?

No, that’s not it. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted yesterday that rank-and-file Republicans just want as much confrontation as humanly possible. The latest report from the Pew Research Center makes this clear:

The survey finds deep differences in how Republicans and Democrats want President Obama and GOP leaders to deal with issues. Fully 75% of Republicans want GOP leaders to challenge Obama more often; just 15% say they are handling relations with the president about right and 7% say GOP leaders should go along with Obama more often.

Fewer Democrats (49%) want Obama to challenge Republicans more often; 33% say he is handling this about right while 11% want him to go along with GOP leaders more often.

That’s quite a bit of asymmetry. In the overall population, the number of Americans who want GOP lawmakers to go along more with the White House is roughly identical to the number of Americans who want Republicans to “challenge” the president more often.

But among GOP voters, the results are lopsided. This actually explains a lot.

We like to think there’s a natural resistance to gridlock – the public doesn’t like it when policymakers can’t agree on anything, and nothing gets done because institutions are paralyzed by partisan and ideological differences.

But results like these paint a very different picture. Republicans don’t just have an aversion to bipartisan cooperation, they also look at six years of near-total GOP opposition to everything the president proposes – including instances in which Obama actually agreed with the Republican line – and conclude, “It’s not good enough. We want even more partisan confrontations.”

This is broadly consistent with Pew findings from a year ago, which showed that liberals expect and support compromise, but conservatives are hostile to the very idea of compromise.

Christopher Ingraham noted at the time, “A party that is ideologically predisposed against compromise is going to have a very hard time governing, particularly within a divided government.”

It’s an important detail for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the reminder about who has Republican officials’ ear. It’s tempting to think elected GOP officials would see polls showing broad support for cooperation and compromise, and then adopt a constructive posture to align themselves with the American mainstream. Clearly, however, the practical realities show otherwise – Republican policymakers are listening to Republican voters, and no one else.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 22, 2015

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Congress, GOP | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“An Election Do-Over?”: Congress Thinks Elections Don’t Matter if They Don’t Like The Outcome

The problem for many years in Washington was that lawmakers were always looking to the next election, holding votes meant to burnish their own conservative or liberal credentials or set their opponents up for an attack ad based on that vote. That was an unproductive approach, but it seems downright quaint compared to now, when lawmakers are still fighting the last three elections.

Democrats note that their candidate won the 2008 election, and achieved an agenda – including the health care law – as a result of that win and the wins of Democrats in Congress. Republicans counter that voters overwhelmingly expressed their disgust with the law in 2010, electing scores of new Republicans to Congress and giving the GOP control of the House. Democrats say that voters had a definitive opportunity in 2012 to undo Obamacare, when Mitt Romney ran on a platform of doing just that. Not only was Romney defeated, but Democrats picked up seats in both the House and Senate.

Elections have consequences, as Obamacare foe John McCain reminded his colleagues recently. But too many lawmakers seem to think that elections are meaningless if they don’t like the result.

The standoff has resulted in a whole new definition of the word “compromise” on Capitol Hill. It was bad enough when the idea of compromise became equivalent to capitulation. That made it nearly impossible to get an agreement on anything, with lawmakers in both parties declaring to constituents that they will “fight” for them – meaning they wouldn’t accept the concerns or needs of any other district. But now, “compromise” has been expanded to re-open settled matters. This was true when Democrats sought (though with much less ferocity than the GOP has displayed with Obamacare) to vitiate the Bush tax cuts for upper-income people before the law’s expiration date. And Republicans are doing it now with Obamacare.

If lawmakers want to undo settled law and free and fair elections, why stop at legislation? Why don’t the Republicans say, OK, we’ll keep the government running, but only if President Obama and the entire cabinet resign. Then they can offer a “compromise” under which they’ll accept the early departures of merely Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

And maybe Democrats could say, sure, we’ll delay Obamacare, but only if every single tea  party-affiliated member of Congress resigns immediately, and pledges never to get involved in politics or public policy again. Then, they could “compromise” by accepting the resignations of only the most vociferous of the GOP’s right wing. If you’re going to undo an election, after all, why not go big?

Sports teams and armies have operated under the idea that you fight the battle with the people and the tools you have at that moment. Washington could do the same.

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, September 27, 2013

September 30, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Grand Old Party Of Nihilists And Cranks”: The Politics Of Destruction With The Values Of Zealots

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, Republican Saxby Chambliss, Georgia’s senior senator, was considered a steadfast conservative. The American Conservative Union has given him a lifetime score of 92, while the Club for Growth has scored him at 83. He earns an A from the National Rifle Association.

But a couple of years ago, Chambliss embarked upon an exercise that would merely have cemented his stature as a power broker as recently as the administration of George W. Bush: He joined Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, to form a bipartisan group of senators working to come up with a deal to whittle down the deficit. In other words, he considered compromise with Democrats.

In our current warped political universe, that was enough to earn Chambliss a potential challenger from the right, and he decided not to seek re-election. Chastened by Chambliss’ experience, none of the Georgia Republicans running for his vacant seat wants to occupy the same ZIP code with the words “compromise” and “bipartisan.”

This is what the Grand Old Party has come to: It’s now led by nihilists whose only politics are those of destruction and whose only values are those of zealots. There may be reasonable Republicans remaining in office, but they’ve been bullied into compliance and cowed into silence.

If you don’t believe that, listen to the growing drumbeat for the impeachment of President Obama — despite the glaring lack of evidence that he has committed impeachable offenses. (Having the temerity to win a second term is not an impeachable crime.) While such talk was once restricted to the nutters — men like U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI), who has said the president’s impeachment would “be a dream come true” — it has leaked into the GOP’s water supply.

Witness the recent off-the-cuff remarks of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who, though a standard-bearer for the hard right, has been considered a thoughtful and rational man. At a recent meeting with constituents, Coburn declared that the president was coming “perilously close” to the standards for impeachment.

Last month, at a tribute in his honor, the retiring Chambliss obliquely urged his party to come to its senses. He didn’t explicitly mention the GOP’s spiral into right-wing madness, but he did speak of the importance of his work with the Gang of Six, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I don’t mind crossing party lines. If Republicans had a patent on all the good ideas, we’d be in power forever. We don’t have a patent on all those good ideas,” he said.

But his intended audience has taken another lesson from Chambliss’ bipartisanship: If you even consider it, you will be labeled a RINO — Republican In Name Only — by the tea party activists who now wield enormous power in the Republican Party. Having chased Chambliss off, they have taken to hectoring Georgia’s junior Republican senator, Johnny Isakson, for his failure to jump with enthusiasm to the idea of shutting down the government over Obamacare.

Tea Party types have also targeted longtime senator Lamar Alexander, Republican from Tennessee. In a letter urging Alexander to retire, they claimed that “our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous.”

In response, Alexander penned a remarkable op-ed in The Tennessean defending his record as a politician who has occasionally reached across the aisle. “I know that if you only have 45 votes and you need 60 senators to get something important done like balancing the budget and fixing the debt, then you have to work with other people — that is, IF you really care about solving the problem, IF you really want to get a result, instead of just making a speech,” he wrote.

However, such time-honored traditions of governance have little effect on the white-hot rage of radicals who want to toss out any conservative who remembers the lessons of his middle-school civics classes. They have no respect for the basic give-and-take on which representative democracies thrive, no real interest in improving the nation’s fortunes. So, no, Senator Alexander, they don’t care about solving problems.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, August 31, 2013

September 1, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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