September 16, 2011 Politics I Don’t Vote for the Party, I Vote for the Person My friend, whom I have not seen in several years, recently moved back to her home town about an hour away from me. To my delight, she invited me down to see her new place and talk. Because she is a terrific interior decorator with more moxy than about anyone else I know, I was excited and eagerly accepted her invitation. Another friend came by, and we did the old catching up routine. An older lady, she owned a decorating business herself when I lived in their town. Now, the two of them are collaborating on paring down her life in her retirement. Invariably, the topic of the economy came up as they discussed their business ventures. The older friend made a comment prompting me to ask, “Are you political, then?” To which she replied, “No, but I don’t like that guy in office right now.” Her words were more colorful and direct than I care to repeat. My younger friend then said, “I am middle of the road.” After the older lady left, my friend turned to me to explain. “What I wanted to say but didn’t was that I don’t vote for the party, I vote for the person.” This stance sounds open-minded and levelheaded on the surface. In the past, I would have welcomed it and championed it. How wonderful to have someone study a candidate and what he or she believes instead of only voting with a party! Sadly, our political milieu has changed, and no longer is picking a candidate so simple. The bitter partisan politics of recent years has made for bickering bed fellows in Congress. No longer do we see a political party respecting the will of the people and allowing the President to satisfy his mandates upon election. Senator Mitch McConnell summed up his party’s focus: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.” He did not say working with the new administration to heal the economy, create jobs, solve the debt crisis, fix the health care system, or end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. No, he and his party have one focus and that is to thwart any objective by President Obama in order that he loses the next election. When did this extreme polarization of Congress begin? In an Op-ed column in the New York Times, Joe Nocera writes of Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee: “To Cooper, the true villain is not the Tea Party; it’s Newt Gingrich. In the 1980s, when Tip O’Neill was speaker of the House, ‘Congress was functional,’ Cooper told me. ‘Committees worked. Tip saw his role as speaker of the whole House, not just the Democrats.’ Gingrich was a new kind of speaker: deeply partisan and startlingly power-hungry. ‘His first move was to get rid of the Democratic Study Group, which analyzed bills, and which was so trusted that Republicans as well as Democrats relied on it,’ Cooper recalled. ‘This was his way of preventing us from knowing what we were voting on. Today,’ he added, ‘the ignorance around here is staggering. Nobody has any idea what they’re voting on.’ In the O’Neill era, when an important issue was being debated, there were often several legislative alternatives. But, under Gingrich, ‘that was eliminated in favor of one partisan bill,’ said Cooper. That continued after the Democrats retook the House in 2006. ‘We no longer search for the best ideas or the best policies,’ he said. ‘There was only one health care bill offered. One Dodd-Frank. Now you are either an ally or a traitor.’ …’The real problem with big issues like Medicare is that both parties have to be brave at the same time,’ he said. ‘Every pollster will tell you not to do that to get partisan advantage. Too many people here are willing to deliberately harm the country for partisan gain. That is borderline treason.’ ‘This is not a collegial body anymore,’ he said. ‘It is more like gang behavior. Members walk into the chamber full of hatred. They believe the worst lies about the other side. Two senators stopped by my office just a few hours ago. Why? They had a plot to nail somebody on the other side. That’s what Congress has come to.'” To read the entire article, go to http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/06/opinion/the-last-moderate.html?_r=1&ref=joenocera Treason or something akin to it? Blackmail? You need only look to latest brouhaha over raising the debt ceiling, something Republicans voted to raise 7 times during the Bush years, to see a troubling tenor in our country’s politics. Under Obama, Republicans suddenly had a case of the “deficit worry,” tying the debt ceiling passage to trillions in partisan spending cuts, pushing the United States to the brink of debt default and thereby lowering the U.S.’s bond rating for the first time in history. Voting for the man or woman? For the office of president, it just isn’t that simple any longer except in primaries. There, campaign rhetoric can give some indication of the candidate’s reasoning and objectives. But once there are only two vying for the presidency, you need to study the parties and figure out their agendas, regardless of who the candidate is. In terms of the candidates’ rhetoric then, filter it down to what the party actually wants to do on issues. The latter holds true for those vying for congressional seats. The 2012 election is an important one. At stake is the retirement of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, thus an open seat on the Supreme Court; the implementation of the Health Care Bill; and the tactic of tax cuts and trickle down economics used by the former Bush Administration and Republican Congress to fix the ailing economy. Also at stake are Medicare and Social Security, the punching bags of politicians who wish to cut government spending on social programs. The stakes are indeed bigger than one man or woman who runs for office. He or she won’t be tackling the country’s problems alone, you can be sure.