Let's start with the most glaring example: as I write this, Congress has just kicked the can down the road on funding the Department of Homeland Security, passing a short-term bill to avoid a partial shutdown for one measly week. Presumably, this is time to find more votes to pass a longer-term bill. This Congress got here because it can't resist tacking divisive riders onto must-pass legislation. It can't resist throwing temper tantrums at all the wrong times. The Senate got stuck on a DHS funding bill because Republicans insisted on attaching language that rolled back President Obama's executive actions on immigration. Two different issues got rolled into one. Give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell some credit for getting a clue and pushing a clean funding bill through the Senate. Now it's stalled out in the House because conservatives insist on an executive rollback which they don't have the votes to ram through.
Stuck in the middle of this are tens of thousands of DHS employees who may have to work without pay or get furloughed because of this political playground. Art Del Cueto, president of the Border Patrol union in southern Arizona told Tucson News Now, "We send politicians to Washington to solve problems, not to use agents and their families as political pawns for their policy warfare." Mr. Cueto gets it; why doesn't Congress?
As I have said before, Congress could solve many gridlock problems if it did two things: 1) dump the filibuster and 2) give the president the line-item veto. I don't expect either one to happen because power is what congresspeople crave. It's like telling your dog to go neuter himself. Congress would rather have these shutdown threats and temper tantrums. I say they love power more than they love America. (Props to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has just come out and said the Senate needs to ditch filibusters.)
Next in our rogues gallery: talk radio and television. Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity and others in their vein may claim they love America. But I'll tell you another dirty little secret -- they love it mostly because it gives them the ability to make money. At least Rush Limbaugh admits it, and he did so in his first book, The Way Things Ought To Be. He says on page 22...
"I do not look upon my show as a chance to advance an agenda. I do not view it as an opportunity to register more Republican voters or to expand the number of conservatives in the country. I don't view my radio who as a forum for conservative activism of any kind."And further down the page...
"You might be wondering if this means that I don't really care about my beliefs, that I am simply using them to attract like-minded people. Wrong-o. To the contrary, they are my heart and soul, the essence of my being, and I never betray them or misrepresent them in the pursuit of audience, other than when I am doing satire and parody... Still, I am first a broadcaster, bound by the dictates and requirements of broadcasting, as I take to air each day. The important thing to remember is that I also have the freedom to be myself, which means that sharing my passions and beliefs, as well as my commentary on events, is a very close second on the list of reasons why I chose to be on radio and TV."In other words, when it comes down to ideology or entertainment value, entertainment is going to win out every time, even though he also realises how much weight he carries as a conservative opinion leader.
I've heard the others. Sean Hannity thinks the right can do no wrong. I'm amazed Mark Levin hasn't had a heart attack on air from his ceaseless rants. They are selling a product -- themselves -- and people are buying with audience and ad dollars. Their success depends not on taking an ideological position that is necessarily beneficial or desiring to make America work better; it's about delivering what people want.
Always remember this: talk-show hosts are not elected to their positions. They have the great freedom to espouse because they have all of the platform with few responsibilities beyond ratings and FCC regulations. Their audience does not vote on them at least every two years. They do not have to logroll, negotiate, deal or vote on any bills. They do not have to step in to help constituents. I wonder how many of them would badmouth politicians as much if they had to do their work, even if it didn't change them ideologically. I wonder how much time they would devote to telling us how much America bites because of the people in Washington.
And before you ask me, I do know about Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Alan Colmes, Ed Schultz and the Rev. Al Sharpton. I don't consider them in the same league of talkers because they don't draw the same kinds of numbers. I submit they have their jobs more out of charity, because somebody in a position of power decided the media needed more liberal voices. It's a noble cause, but it isn't making them filthy rich. Progressive shows certainly aren't helping low-rated MSNBC, which would not be airing them if it didn't have NBC money to lean on.
Up next, political parties: anybody who thinks their leadership loves America hasn't heard about dark money. It's dirty secrets time again: if the Republicans and Democrats really, truly loved America as much as they claim, they would get rid of it. But they can't, because they need it. Those dark dollars do the dirty work of bashing the other guy during campaign season, and they don't have to spend a dime. That's a hard deal to walk away from. The Supreme Court may say it's legal, and it's a matter of free speech, but not everything that's legal is beneficial. During the last election cycle, I heard more about how much the candidates stunk rather than how much they accomplished.
It doesn't stop there. Here in Arizona, we underwent a congressional redistricting process that was based mainly on drawing competitive districts -- ones where either a Democrat or Republican had a reasonable shot at winning. This led to some funky geography, where northern Arizona was lumped in with parts of southern Arizona, and Cochise County ranches were lumped in with Tucson. I call it gerrymandering; the parties call it "fairness." Ask former congressman Ron Barber how fair it was for him to have to straddle the conservatism of Cochise County with the liberalism of Tucson. He ended up alienating at least one chunk of his district on the tough votes and the compromises he had to make. His reward for toughing it out was to get booted by a razor-thin margin.
Barber didn't lose because he was unpopular or committed some grievous legislative sin. He lost because he was forced to do a job that should have been handled by two different elected officials. He lost because the parties wanted what was fair to them, rather than what was fair to the voters. The overriding irony is that Arizonans are increasingly ditching party affiliations, making attempts to create competitive districts absurd. If the D's and R's loved America as much as they claim, they'd abandon this farce.
I can't close without pulling out a mirror. How much do we really love America? Somebody had to vote all these people into office. Maybe you and I didn't vote for that guy, but somebody did. To whoever that somebody is: Are you voting on the basis of what's practical, workable and real rather than what's ideologically holy? Are you voting on what you can get versus what America can get back? Are you voting your values to such an extreme that one rotten tree means the entire forest has to go? Are you doing your homework and understanding the issues? And are you afraid to write in, "None of the above" if none of the candidates is right for the vote after you've gone through this analysis? Love takes work; ask any married couple or parent.
Judge Judy has said about divorced parents, "You need to love your children more than you hate each other." Congress should listen and heed. So should a lot of people. Many times love is tender, but it also needs to be tough. Love means doing what's right even when it's not easy or downright painful. Love means caring about the greater good of others. We can still wave flags, salute our military, wear three-cornered hats and play fifes, but it's got to go further. We've got to sacrifice. We've got to admit to ourselves ideological purity and combat politics are not the answer. We've got to swallow some of our own pride in the name of national pride.
It's all doable, but do we love America enough to do it?