Toxic politics: Poisonous partisanship claims more moderates

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Washington's toxic partisan atmosphere has claimed another victim: Rep. Steven LaTourette, a Republican from northeast Ohio who says he won't run for a 10th term because he can't take the lack of compromise in the U.S. House anymore.

Mr. LaTourette is not alone. Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Me.; Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; Kent Conrad, D-N.D.; and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., decided not to run again, in part, for similar reasons.

Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of embracing the my-way-or-the-highway stance. But the right-wing fringe of the GOP bears primary responsibility. Tea Party types have made moderation the new extremism.

When Ms. Snowe said in March that she would not seek a fourth Senate term, Tea Party Express chairman Amy Kremer said compromise was bad because lawmakers who are willing to work with the other party are to blame for the deficit. "That's extreme," she said. "We cannot support people like that."

Compromise once was the lifeblood of American politics. Without it, there would not have been a Constitution. Compromise defined the powers of the executive branch and whether there would be a list of individual liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

Politicians who excelled at compromise gained influence, but not anymore. The result is a Congress that can't get things done, plays chicken with the nation's credit rating and is more interested in symbolic votes to make opponents look bad than in real votes that accomplish something.

The result is $110 billion in looming cuts in domestic and military spending, and the threat that the expiring Bush-era tax cuts could derail the economic recovery. For that, Congress earns a 12 percent approval rating.

As Rep. LaTourette said: "The time has come for not only good politics but good policy." Things will only get worse if what Ms. Snowe calls the "sensible center" of American politics continues to quit out of frustration.

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