Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Voters played key role in debt-limit deal

By CHARLES BABINGTON
August 1, 2011

Dear voter: Want to know why Democrats and Republicans in Congress find it so hard to work together to solve tough problems like the debt ceiling, health care and Social Security?

Look in the mirror.

Americans gripe about cowardly, self-serving politicians, and Congress doubtlessly has its feckless moments and members. But voters are quick to overlook their own role in legislative impasses that keep the nation from resolving big, obvious, festering problems such as immigration, the long-term stability of Medicare, and now, the debt ceiling.

Here’s the truth: The overwhelming majority of senators and House members do what their constituents want them to do. Or, more to the point, they respond to people in their districts who bother to vote. Nothing is dearer to politicians than re-election, and most have a keen sense of when they are straying into dangerous waters.

For a growing number of senators and representatives, the only risk is in their party’s primary, not in the general election. Most voters, and many news outlets, ignore primaries. That gives control to a relative handful of motivated, hard-core liberals (in Democratic contests) and full-bore conservatives (in GOP primaries).

In politically balanced districts, a hard-right or hard-left nominee may have trouble in the general election, when many independent and centrist voters turn out. But many House districts today aren’t balanced, thanks largely to legislative gerrymandering and Americans’ inclination to live and work near people who share their views and values.

The result is districts so solidly conservative that no GOP nominee can possibly lose, or so firmly liberal that any Democratic nominee is certain to win. In these districts, the primary is the whole ball game.

Republican lawmakers are under constant pressure to drift to the right, to make sure no fire-breathing conservative outflanks them in a light-turnout primary dominated by ideologues. The same goes for Democrats on the left.

So who turns up on Capitol Hill for freshman orientation? Democrats and Republicans who can barely comprehend each other’s political viewpoints, let alone embrace them enough to pursue a possible compromise on big issues.

But what if a Republican and Democrat do decide to meet halfway in hopes of finding, say, a path to shore up Social Security for decades to come. What can they expect?

In some states and districts, they can expect to be drummed out of their party for the crime of engaging with “the enemy.” That’s what happened last year to Bob Bennett of Utah, a mainstream conservative Republican senator. A relatively small number of conservative activists, led by tea partyers, bounced him from the ticket at a GOP convention. They taunted Bennett with chants of “TARP, TARP.” He had voted for the bipartisan bank bailout legislation pushed by Republican President George W. Bush. The Senate’s GOP leaders also voted for the bill. But it was an unacceptable compromise in the eyes of Utah Republicans picking their Senate nominee.

In Alaska, GOP primary voters also kicked Sen. Lisa Murkowski off their ballot. She barely saved her seat with a scrappy write-in candidacy. Murkowski supported the bank bailout and, admittedly, is more moderate than the average congressional Republican. But her improbable write-in victory proved she is popular with Alaskans in general, even if her own party rejected her in the primary.

Tea party leaders spell out a warning in their periodic Washington rallies.

“The message is that we’re watching, and we want you to vote based on our core values,” Mark Meckler, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, said at one such event.

When Democratic leaders were struggling earlier this year to strike a budget deal and avert a government shutdown, Phil Kerpen of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity said sharply, “No Republican better help them.” The crowd cheered loudly.

Such threats are mainly aimed at Republicans for now, largely because of the tea party’s rapid rise. But Democratic lawmakers also know liberal discontent might undo them if they stray too far to the center.

“It’s astounding how often some Democratic leaders sacrifice principles when critical issues are at stake,” said a writer for the liberal AmericaBlog. The column rebuked Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., for working with the bipartisan “Gang of Six” on a debt-reduction plan.

A McClatchy-Marist poll this year found that 71 percent of registered voters want political leaders in Washington to compromise to get things done. If those voters skip key primaries, however, they may have little say in the matter. Political enthusiasts, whether they wear peace signs or “Don’t Tread On Me” T-shirts, will determine who gets elected in many districts before a wide swath of Americans even notice it’s an election year.

Except for a recently appointed senator from Nevada, every member of Congress got there the same way: American voters elected them.

People may bristle at the notion that we get the government we deserve. But there’s no denying we get the government we elect.

Enhanced by Zemanta

3 Responses to Voters played key role in debt-limit deal

  1. woody188

    August 1, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Wow. Just wow. Talk about your modern piece of propaganda.

    It’s not the fascist/globalist liars entrenched in Congress and Wall Street. It’s all mom and pop’s fault for voting or not voting in the rigged election system.

    The only thing we can blame ourselves for is not seeing the truth of the matter sooner than we have, or for not wanting or not being capable of seeing the truth because it is so heinous and against our very being as Patriotic Americans.

  2. griff

    August 1, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Yeah, the voters played a role in electing Obama too…and Bush the Lesser…and Bill Clinton…and Bush Senior…and all the Congresses that have worked hand in hand with their corporate\banking\military controllers, and each other (oh boy – bipartisanship!) to bring this country to the brink of financial insolvency, and then paint themselves the heroes for rescuing this country from the abyss.

    They didn’t rescue any thing, they just put it off so they can get re-elected.

  3. kishind

    August 3, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    quite frankly… the scope of the problem is immense to the point of overwhelming. Countless Americans want to be involved in the renewal of government accountability and financial sanity, but don’t have the slightest idea where to start. We vote, we pay attention to political news and the ideology of candidates, but beyond that…. what? People have lives to attend to, bills to pay, we can’t devote ourselves to lobbying for reason, factually motivated decisions, and honesty. How do we get election laws changed to be friendlier to third parties? How do we convince news outlets to hold televised debates with a third party? The two-party monopoly of government is deeply entrenched.

    The main reason we have districts so uniform in their votes is, as you said, “legislative gerrymandering”. Politicians change the shape and size of a district in order to secure re-election. How do we solve this, through voter turnout? “Nothing is dearer to politicians than re-election.” No self-interested politician is going to redistrict to reduce chances of that, even if it means a more representative democracy. Practicality trumps ideology when it comes to self-interest, but ideology trumps practicality when making decisions that affect the lives of others.

    Our current government is no longer sufficient to address the problems we have entrusted them with. Economics, Politics, and Education all require a re-invention. An intervention. The catastrophic failures we’ve seen so far have not been enough to motivate the reasonable American people to stand up… my favorite founding father writes more eloquently than I:

    Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
    -Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

    So I pray that America is shouldered with insufferable evils, because only trouble so great that it disrupts the daily lives of all Americans will be enough for us to say “ENOUGH!!” and re-invent our collective futures. Modern technology provides a effective platform for real democracy, direct democracy. In such a system, we the voters truly have the responsibility for the present and future of our nation. In the meantime, we the people find ourselves ineffectual to address our most pressing concerns, and unhappy with our powerlessness, we scorn the very people we have relinquished our power to.

    Of course, direct democracy requires an educated populace, and effective education requires widespread financial stability. So these problems cannot be addressed separately, and any amount of “reform” will simply change the surface without addressing the root problems. I leave you with a quote by President Lincoln, which speaks to the crisis of his generation and ours.

    The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
    -Abraham Lincoln