Everyone knows the story of President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neil fighting during the day and then quietly meeting after 5 p.m. to get down to the real business of moving legislation. Reagan had more legislative successes with a Democratic House than Jimmy Carter did, and this was probably because of the people skills needed to make things happen. It may not have hurt, either, that a little “oil” was sipped at these gatherings. The important thing is that the ball moved downfield toward the goal line, and both leaders could go back to their respective party leaders without being ostracized, threatened with impeachment, finding themselves with a primary opponent, or otherwise being marginalized.
What has changed? One of the biggest causes has been changing the lines to redistrict congressional seats. Today you have congressmen who represent overwhelming majorities in their districts. Why should they have to work for your vote? Phil Gingrey and Tom Price each have a Democrat running against them in November. I’ll be surprised if either doesn’t get between eighty to eighty-five percent of the vote. John Lewis in Atlanta has never had a serious challenger. They aren’t the only ones. This is a nationwide phenomenon. And I think it is fair to ask what legislative accomplishments of note Gingrey has had? Lewis has held his seat for almost 25 years, and while he was a major player in the civil rights movement and is called the conscience of the House, does anyone know of any meaningful legislation that bears his name? Why should these and other representatives work for your vote if they know the voters will always support you because of your ideology and not anything you have done? In fact, they don’t. Their mailings increase, and they may do a few more town hall meetings around election time, but you can be sure that they are busy dialing for dollars, always in fear of drawing an opponent and always trying to scare one off with a big campaign war chest. Meanwhile, little of substance gets done and the American people end up with a situation like the one that is about to bring our country down: sequestration.
After Senator Richard Lugar, Republican from Indiana lost his seat in the primary, conservative radio talk show host Eric Erickson gloated and promised that Saxby Chambliss could expect a Tea Party opponent in 2014. This was because Chambliss dared to try and reach some sort of compromise with the Democrats to dig us out of our financial predicament. Compromise, reaching across the aisle, are considered treason today. Ideology reigns supreme and renegades get punished. Democrats want more taxes to increase revenue in return for spending cuts. Republicans only want spending cuts. And Grover Norquist, the Californian who somehow gets even state legislators of the other 49 states to sign his pledges to never vote to raise taxes, holds up the pledge to any Republican that dares to compromise, and threatens to bring him down.
No one wants spending cuts that effect them; no one wants to pay more taxes. Something has got to give. We have one presidential candidate promising to restore the Bush tax cuts, adding his own tax cuts on top of that, increasing defense spending, restoring $760 billion in Medicare cuts, and not providing any details other than some abstract explanation that somehow it’s all going to work out. We are truly a nation in deep trouble. Let the finger pointing continue, but until reason prevails and both sides see what Reagan and O’Neill saw, our memories will be all that’s left of better times than these.