The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

November 21, 2012

After the elections, attitude will be key

An intriguing conversation about the next step in the fiscal drama is taking place among our elected leaders. At this early point it is mostly at an exploratory level, but it’s no less real for that.

A day after an election in which a changing electorate essentially cemented the status quo in place — re-electing the President and keeping Congress split between the two parties — the stock market swooned. Its behavior was fueled by doubt that Capitol Hill and the White House would be able to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of rising taxes and deep spending cuts slated for the end of the year. Really, though, it was more than that: like the election itself, it reflected deep skepticism about our elected leaders’ ability to address the difficult problems that confront our nation.

The market’s dive was followed almost immediately by an interesting dance between the President and Republican leaders in Congress. Where House Speaker John Boehner conceded that Republicans might accept increased tax revenues, the President said he would take a serious look at reform of entitlements. These are tantalizing signs that last year’s rigid partisan stances could soften — that flexibility, so long elusive, might have a chance of a comeback.

As they often do, the elections created an opening, a moment in political life when fundamental questions come to the fore. The question most people in Washington and many outside it are focused on is as basic as they get: Can government still work? Are political leaders capable of setting aside their differences and finding common ground?

In Congress the answer, I believe, will lie with its members, and whether they correctly read the electoral tea leaves to conclude that Americans want solutions, not obstructionism. Their mindset will be key. If the majority on Capitol Hill — whatever their party — decide to be pragmatic and cooperative, Congress may pull itself out of the swamp of disdain in which most Americans hold it. If, instead, they opt for ideology and confrontation, the dysfunction will continue.

Attitude is all-important. When members see politics as a steady quest for improving our country and our society, there’s hope. That is when they’re prepared to ignore all the forces competing for influence on Capitol Hill, and search most diligently for remedies to the scores of truly difficult issues that we need Washington to resolve.

“And there’s a politician that has read and thought,” William Butler Yeats wrote. We can only hope new and returning members of Congress will do the same — read, look clearly at the world around them, and think for themselves. For the plain truth is, there are too many forces conspiring to keep them from doing so: their party leaders, lobbyists, the moneyed interests that are already preparing for the next election, opinionated media personalities, constituents pursuing their own private interests, the talking points prepared for their caucuses, the frenetic pace of life in Washington, the crisis of the moment.

Yet unless politicians can find the time — and, more importantly, the inclination — to chart their own course through the thickets of policy that confront them every day, they cannot collaborate with one another to help Congress do so, too. If they’re locked in by the dictates of partisan calculation, the rigors of ideological purity, or the constant need to please funders, then those are the interests they will protect. Even if it’s at the expense of making the progress Americans so badly want them to make, and of the basic civility that allows Congress and our political system to rise above the passions of the moment.

It’s anyone’s guess how Congress will deal with this chance to start afresh. That’s up to each of its members. The pressures that drove them toward hostilities before the election haven’t gone away. But the signals being sent by political leaders suggest they understand that Americans expect flexibility and pragmatism. And the opening to take individual responsibility for political progress and set Congress on a more productive course hasn’t closed yet. It’s a gift of the elections. Let’s hope they accept it.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

1
Text Only
Viewpoints
  • 06.29 CrystalFarewell.jpg Starting over at Head Start

    All I ever wanted to be was a journalist. Having worked on my high school and college newspapers, I knew it was the career for me.
    I love talking to people, listening to their stories, being creative every day and experiencing new things. But as you know, news happens outside the hours of 9 to 5, and my job here at the Register rarely stayed within that time frame.

    June 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • Ike Adams They don’t make strawberries as they did back in the old days

    I’m not inclined to go through my archives at the moment, but it almost feels like the column I’m about to write has almost become an annual thing over the years.
    At least I know for sure that that this is not the first time that memories of picking strawberries there on Blair Branch on hot days in June has triggered this keyboard about this time of year.
    I grew up on a little subsistence, hillside farm deep in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, among the coalfields near the Virginia line.

    June 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Baby boomers have let technology rob their grandchildren of the joys of youth

    When I was growing up, it was not uncommon to see fathers and sons along creek banks fishing together or in the woods hunting squirrels or pitching horse shoes or even shooting marbles late in the afternoon in the cool hours before dark.
    Dads were teaching kids to play the games they grew up with. Little girls, learned from mothers,how to skip rope, play with jacks or play hopscotch.

    June 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg No Lincoln or Douglas in this debate

    Remember the famous slap-down in the 1988 vice presidential debate when Republican Dan Quayle compared his youth and limited government experience to those of John Kennedy’s when Kennedy ran for president?
    His Democratic opponent, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, acidly replied: “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

    June 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Senate campaign already in full bloom

    Any hope for a respite in the U.S. Senate campaign following Tuesday’s primary disappeared immediately.
    Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes came out swinging in victory speeches which sounded like campaign kickoffs.
    McConnell commended Matt Bevin on “a tough (primary) race” and appealed to Bevin supporters to unite behind his re-election bid. That will be hard for Bevin and those who backed him.

    May 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG ‘Taxpayer-eaters’ meet ‘self-serving politician-eaters’

    What some candidates could gain in this year’s election – beyond just winning office – is a stark reminder of how wrong political leaders were when declaring last year they had adequately addressed Kentucky’s public-pension crisis.
    Instead, legislators with serious courage deficiencies failed to agree on reforms beyond what they believe are “politically feasible.”

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Step Out, Step up for Diabetes Association

    Six weeks ago when I wrote here announcing the 2014 Edition of Team TKO’s American Diabetes Association, Step Out Walk Team, several dozen of you readers sent generous donations to sponsor grandson Tyler Kane Ochs (TKO) and me in the walk that takes place, rain or shine, in the mud or not, at Keeneland on the morning of May 31.
    Another several dozen of you either called, emailed or dropped a card in regular mail and asked that I remind you again “after the holidays” (Easter and Mother’s Day).

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Hitting the campaign trail

    The most watched race in the country ? the battle for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Mitch McConnell ? has so far produced a bevy of charges and not much substance.
    We haven’t seen that much of McConnell or his likely Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes out on the campaign trail.
    McConnell’s primary opponent Matt Bevin has been much more active and visible, but his performance hasn’t enhanced his chances.

    May 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • The case of the scary black cat

    If Margie didn’t believe that black cats were the harbinger of bad luck, she certainly believed it when a black cat brushed against her leg while she was leaning over a large trash can burning garbage one late afternoon.
    Startled by the sudden appearance of the feline, Margie opened her mouth wide and let out a blood-curdling scream that could have awakened Count Dracula himself.

    May 10, 2014

  • Ike Adams Basking in the spring sunshine

    If you had asked me, as recently as two weeks ago, to make a list of things I expected to see on the first Monday in May of 2014, two of the things that I actually did see would not have been on the list, even if you’d required that it contain at least 500 items.
    I’d have been a bit skeptical about Ralph’s purple asparagus and his gorgeous snowball bush, both of which came through most admirably. And I would have had my doubts about the poppies that have been in our back yard for several generations and the bearded German Iris that Jeanette Todd gave us more than two decades ago. It faithfully stuns us there at the corner of the front porch every spring, but there they were, basking in absolute glory as the sun set Monday afternoon.

    May 8, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Japanese Soldiers Storm Beach in Exercises Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Should Madison County’s three local governing bodies ban smoking in indoor public places?

Yes
No
     View Results