In a few more hours, peace and quiet will descend, the respite we have yearned for from the noise of political campaigning, the incessant advertising, the aggravation of robocalls and polling by the minute.
Long and unpleasant as some of these races have been (think back to the tenor of the presidential race, including the Republican primaries, and other federal races in Ohio and elsewhere), they have been a clarifying backdrop to some questions:
• What do you take away from this season? Listening closely, it has been impossible to miss one central theme: How broken the (federal) government is. In the course of the year, many candidates have painted a stark picture of which side owns the blame for a government incapable of tackling its problems. Listen to Democrats, and it can’t be more obvious that the Republican crew wrecked the economy with warmongering, an unreasonable aversion to all manner of taxes and regulations and by throwing up legislative roadblocks wherever and whenever it can. The Republicans offer a four-word summary of all that is wrong with the other side: big, socialist, tax-and-spend government.
Neither side has appeared remotely willing to concede its policies have contributed to our economic and social pickle. Instead, it has been much easier to anoint a party patron saint and invoke him in response to criticisms: Why, Bill Clinton left a legacy of prosperity that Republicans squandered. But of course Ronald Reagan set a course to roll back the Democrats’ socialist expansion.
• Another thread has featured prominently. It is that the disillusion with government traces to the loss, if not the death in Washington (and in state capitols to some degree), of relationships that cross partisan lines and enable legislators from opposite ends to work together productively. We have a federal government that is supposed to function much as a marriage would between parties with distinctive personalities and ideas. Each side is expected to put in the effort to make the unit work, with the goal to leave the country better off than before. But this marriage is not working, as evidenced by the howls of partisanship heard from both camps.
One might ask, with due apologies to Ladies Home Journal: “Can this marriage be saved?” Can these parties (and the candidates who win in this hostile climate) agree that the others have the country’s interest at heart, too? Can they trust the other side enough as partners to work with them for the common good?
The odds of saving this marriage don’t look good in the least if within either party, the prevailing understanding of compromise and bipartisanship reflects the reported views of Indiana’s state treasurer and Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Richard Mourdock. “I have a mindset that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view,” Mourdock responded to criticisms of excessive partisanship. And compromise? That, he said, involves “getting other people on the other side of the aisle to come to your side of the aisle. …”
With the electoral season drawing to a close, an elder statesman died on Oct. 21. Among the tributes to George McGovern, the former senator and liberal Democrat, was one from former Sen. Bob Dole, a Kansas Republican, recounting their “shared desire to eliminate hunger in this country and around the world.” He noted their work to reform the food stamp program, expand the school lunch program and establish the Supplemental Program for Women Children and Infants. Dole mentioned how McGovern called in 1998 to ask for his help to strengthen the global school feeding, nutrition and education program, how President Clinton authorized their pilot proposal in 2000, Congress authorized it and President George W. Bush signed into law in 2002 the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program.
Reading George McGovern’s obituaries and Sen. Dole’s tribute, I wondered what they would have made of Mourdock’s brand of “bipartisanship” and where that leads the nation.
Ofobike is the Beacon Journal chief editorial writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3513 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.