Hawthorn Hill by Richard DeRosa
Forget the Beltway, Rethink
Stale Assumptions, Consider
My January 12 essay ended with these words: “Forget the Beltway.” Given the embarrassing shenanigans of the past few months, that sentiment still holds true. The fact that many years ago it took 133 votes to elect a speaker in no way negates the atrocity of it all. I used to excuse the political conundrums that we continually embroil ourselves in as just more evidence of the messiness of democracy. That just does not cut it anymore. There has to be a better way. For instance, the fact that any side holds a statistically insignificant margin of victory over another that then enables it to exercise such undeserved power over the other is in no way defensible, either on moral grounds or any rudimentary sense of fair play. The world the founders lived in and imagined does not exist. Our system of governance has not kept pace with the exigencies of the world we now live in. I wish I had the answers; I do not. But one thing—based on some experiences of late, as well as recent readings—I do know for sure. There are better ways to skin this cat. And I believe (and this surprises me, because it is antithetical to what I have believed most of my life) we would be much better off, despite the pitfalls of any system of governance, expecting far less from the circus the Beltway has become, and look more to ourselves for solutions to common problems. There is, and always should be, a role for central government.
The issue is the length and breadth of its domain. I am not arguing from either a Democratic or Republican perspective. Not so sure what those terms really mean anymore. But the time has come to consider some course alterations.
The Senate and the House of Representatives are not at all representative of or responsive to the essential needs of ALL the people. Rather, with few exceptions, it is a ruckus of ego stew kindled by shallow ambitions, demagoguery and, in many ways, unfortunately, inanity and sheer stupidity. There are some intelligent, thoughtful people in both houses on both sides of the aisle, but they are far outnumbered by the numbskulls. Not sure that George Santos qualifies or even ascends to the level of numbskull. He actually makes the average numbskull look pretty good.
Speaking of aisles, therein lies one of the major obstacles to getting anything done. An aisle, at least in Congress, is a border line. Its intent is to separate, keep apart, to preclude any kind of substantive sharing of thoughts and ideas. It is more of a battle line than a seating arrangement. In fact, just about every aspect of what occurs in both houses exacerbates rather than diminishes political warfare. We seem pleased when someone is described as willing to cross the aisle. An apt metaphor but a sorry state of affairs. One of the fundamental aims of education is to encourage discussion and debate, to think critically about not only one’s views but those of others. And then there are those oft-forgotten but profoundly important words like respect, humility, and civility. Kindness deserves mention as well. Unfortunately, vilification of the other has become the preferred pill of the day.
I have suggested in the past that there should be no arbitrary lines. I believe that rather than sides or aisles they all ought to be plunked down next to one another without regard to party (Madison warned us about the perils of factions long ago). It might force them to actually talk to one another. Offices should also be assigned without regard to party. Walter Lippmann warned us about the tyranny of the majority years back. No reason why any party should determine which bills should come to the floor for consideration or a vote. Such a procedure is an affront to fairness, decency and, frankly, all the people. It is tyranny. The list of changes that might help “drain the swamp” of its toxicity is too lengthy to proffer here. One final thought though—clean out the place with some regularity. Term limits. Two consecutive four-year terms for the House of Representatives and two consecutive six-year terms for the Senate. The latter appears more and more like purgatory for the aging; the former would benefit from turnover once in a while so as to reflect the realities of contemporary needs and culture; it’s too much of a snake pit for mindless firebrands. It might not be a bad idea to raise the bar for admittance to either house. Santos is the most egregious example; there are others equally disreputable, but for different reasons.
The Beltway habitués do have a function. But, more importantly, out here in the real world we need to find ways of working together for common goals in a way that privileges virtue—in the traditional sense of the word. If you get a chance, read Matt Ridley’s excellent book “The Origins of Virtue.” Makes one rethink stale assumptions: and that is a good thing.