Who Said It?

Legislators should have an ideological grounding and strong beliefs identifiable to their constituents…But ideology cannot be a substitute for a determination to think for yourself, for a willingness to study an issue objectively, and for the fortitude to sometimes disagree with your party or even your constituents. Like Edmund Burke, I believe leaders owe the people they represent their best judgment.

Too often bipartisanship is equated with centrism or deal cutting. Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle. One can be very conservative or very liberal and still have a bipartisan mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas. It acknowledges that national unity is important, and that aggressive partisanship deepens cynicism, sharpens political vendettas, and depletes the national reserve of good will that is critical to our survival in hard times. Certainly this was understood by President Reagan, who worked with Democrats frequently and showed flexibility that would be ridiculed today – from assenting to tax increases in the 1983 Social Security fix, to compromising on landmark tax reform legislation in 1986, to advancing arms control agreements in his second term.

What’s your guess?

Pin a medal on yourself if you guessed defeated Indiana Senator Richard Lugar.

h/t Ed Kilgore.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

30 thoughts on “Who Said It?”

  1. And, if Richard Mourdock (or his staff) had ever seen that, his campaign staff would have creatively edited it to make Lugar even less popular…As, for example:

    “…the other party is also patriotic…[and] has some good ideas…

    Lugar applauded those who “…worked with Democrats frequently and showed flexibility…”

    “…a determination to…disagree with your party…”

  2. What’s really sad is the way Lugar has learned to love Big Brother; he wants to put the people who purged him in total control of the American government by electing Mourdock and Romney.

      1. That’s Room 101. There is a Mitchell And Webb sketch about the people next door to Room 101 wondering who this Julia is all the torture victims keep screaming about. Seems she’s a very popular girl. But that sketch is apparently about Room 102, not Room 100.

    1. I may be missing something from a quarter across the globe, but his concession statement seemed to be the exact opposite of conciliatory to me?

      To wit:

      If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good Senator. But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington. He and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate. In effect, what he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party. His answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook. He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it.

  3. In order for voting to be more than an exercise in futility, there has to be some degree of committment on the part of candidates to not casually change their positions after being elected, as well as a political class willing to permit popular views to be represented among the candidates for office. We can’t have a functioning democracy if the candidates are all going to implement the same policies if elected, and merely differ in what they tell the voters before the election, and perhaps not even in that.

    This latter requirement for a functional democracy, unfortunately, directly conflicts with the desire for “bipartisanship” among people who think policy should go on uneffected by the outcome of elections.

    Senator Lugar was entitled to hold whatever views he wanted, the voters to deny him the nomination for holding those views. It was petty of him to urge his Mourdock to screw over the voters by abandoning the positions that won him the primary. In the general election the voters will have a choice this year on several issues where Lugar was denying them a choice by agreeing with the Democrats. That’s good, not bad.

    1. Good for what, Brett? Good for governmental paralysis, maybe. Other things, not so much.

      If we are electing robots to go to D.C. and stick strictly to their ideological playbook, why are we bothering to send them? Why not just write a New Constitution that puts real, raw-gum direct democracy in place? We know enough about polling to be able to implement raw-gum democracy in a very sound way.

    2. That’s a reasonable position to take in a parliamentary democracy.

      Unfortunately, in America, it would mean that no law would ever get passed. Ability to compromise is a necessary ingredient in our political system.

      Nor does it entail that “candidates are all going to implement the same policies if elected”.

    3. Even in a parliamentary democracy, politics is still the art of the possible. In Westminster-style democracies, almost all candidates run with party affiliation, and an even larger majority of those elected have a party affiliation. But even a majority government has to compromise occasionally to get things done. All the more so in the US. But someone with a particular point of view – say an old-fashioned pre-wingnut Republican – can still manage to get laws adopted that are closer to the platform of his or her electoral campaign than the other candidate would have done if elected. So it makes a difference to the legislative product who one elects, even if they compromise.

      But without compromise, or deals, very little will happen at all except noise and hot air. That may suit people who think that the best government is the least government (though even they might like the least government to provide a little peace and quiet), but if one thinks that a public policy needs action, then one gets better action through someone who will make alliances, even provisional or reciprocal.

      That is aside altogether from the great benefit of having honest competent alternatives to the people in office, even if the alternatives are not going to change anything major. Just providing honest good government is a useful change from time to time.

      1. Yup. That’s why I said it’s a reasonable position to take in a parliamentary democracy, not one I would agree with (for the record, I don’t).

  4. Whether paralysis is good or bad is entirely dependent on what is being blocked. If a bill to implement right to work nation-wide were being discussed, you’d probably be out there rooting for “paralysis”.

    1. Being against a system characterized by political gridlock is not the same as being for unilateral disarmament while that gridlock exists.

    2. Paralysis is an ongoing condition, Brett, not a temporary state. The rejection of one bill doesn’t mean that the whole legislative process is paralyzed.

  5. But I don’t think we do have “gridlock”; New laws are being enacted all the time. Does this look like gridlock to you? Frankly, looking at some of those, I wouldn’t mind something closer to “gridlock”.

    Sure, controversial measures with support limited to one party are not passing. I’m having trouble seeing this as a bug rather than a feature.

    1. Actually, there has overall been a slow decline in the number of laws being passed.

      Mind you, that is not necessarily a bad thing (there are plenty of laws that we could do without). But then I’m less worried that there aren’t enough laws being passed (there’s generally plenty of boring, uncontroversial, order of the day legislation that just comes with running a country, so that’s not necessarily an interesting metric to begin with). As a result of gridlock, you also get more piecemeal legislation (such as a federal budget that is being stutter-passed into existence); it’s easier to agree on smaller pieces of legislation. So, this is not a good metric to begin with.

      Problems occur when essential laws (such as the federal budget) are stuck in Congress or when even run-of-the-mill appointments for low-ranking administrative positions are being filibustered. We have also seen a pretty worrying rise in the use of filibusters over the past 2-3 decades.

      At the end of this year, the Bush tax cuts will expire. That’s nothing that either party wants to happen (at least not in an unmitigated fashion), so reasoned compromise should be in the interest of both sides. But somehow, I think we’ll see another game of legislative chicken being played.

      1. Why worry about the Bush tax cuts? Their permanent expiry is the only way forward on the deficit “problem”, which in the end requires taxes to rise on most Americans because of the rising cost of largely socialised medical care. Obama’s and the Congressional Democrats’ right move is either to let them all expire, then propose a temporary extension of the middle-class component (a political win whether Republicans go along or block); or to propose the permanent reinstatement of the middle-class portion, paid for by a gradually rising carbon tax. Though on past experience, you have to doubt whether they have the balls for this.

    2. We have gridlock on many of the most important issues of the day, Brett, due primarily to rampant abuse of the filibuster by the GOP. And no, you can’t measure the quality of legislation by its quantity. Do you really think that counting up how many bills have been introduced to name post offices after Ronald the Dunce measures anything of significance?

  6. Problems occur when essential laws (such as the federal budget) are stuck in Congress or when even run-of-the-mill appointments for low-ranking administrative positions are being filibustered.”

    Who’s filibustering the federal budget? For the last few years, the problem has been the refusal to propose one. Well, except for that one Obama suggested, which got how many votes again? Zero? I don’t think that qualifies as a “filibuster”. The Ryan budget went down 40-57, which again is not a filibuster.

    For political reasons, Democrats in the Senate don’t want to have a budget. You can blame that on partisanship if you like, but don’t pin that on the Republicans.

    1. Nice try, Brett, but even you are tacitly conceding that the GOP is the problem here – which is why you desperately try to divert attention from that sad and sordid fact in the direction of one rather inaccurately presented issue. As usual.

    2. First, I didn’t talk about the budget being filibustered. I talked about it being stuck in Congress. The filibuster I mentioned with respect to appointments for low-ranking administrative positions.

      Second, I didn’t blame anything on the Republicans (nor on the Democrats). In fact, I very carefully worded my comment in a neutral fashion so that we could focus on the procedural aspects and nobody would derail the discussion by blaming one party or the other. Apparently, I was too optimistic.

      What I was describing was the scenario where one party controls the House and another party controls the Senate. In that case, without willingness to compromise, gridlock occurs.

      Similarly with second- or third-tier appointments. One party controls the White House, another has at least 41 senators. Gridlock via filibusters or holds that accomplishes nothing of substance.

      In short, our system has too many veto points built into it even when it comes to day-to-day business to function without the ability to compromise.

      1. We’re still passing stuff. Some stuff I like is not getting anywhere. Some stuff you like is not getting anywhere. This is not “gridlock”. The definition of “gridlock” is not, “Not every law I want gets passed.” Its “nothing gets passed”.

        What the heck is wrong with a condition where only non-controversial bills and nominees can pass? Do you figure we’re not really being governed unless a lot of people are pissed off about new laws? Do you need the weeping and gnashing of teeth to feel validated?

        Sure, under present circumstances nothing bold and exciting is going to get through. Yay! Spare me bold and exciting new laws. I’ll give up a dozen national concealed carry reciprocity laws to avoid one Obamacare.

        I think Mourdock was right in his dismissive remark: You want some “bipartisanship”? Fine, let some Democrats start voting for Republican initiatives for once. You think Lugar was such a statesman, look what you did to Lieberman. You want bipartisanship, it can’t be supplied only by Republicans.

        That’s not bipartisanship, that’s surrender you’re asking for.

        1. What you’re missing is that I’m not making any difference between stuff I like and stuff I don’t like. I’m not asking for Republicans to “surrender” unilaterally; in fact, I’m not asking them for anything (nor Democrats, for that matter). I am merely pointing out that Congress cannot work without some willingness and ability to compromise. I am making a statement about the way our political system works; I don’t prescribe a recipe for curing its ailments (in fact, I suspect that unless the political and policy gap between the parties narrows, there may not be one).

          And finally, you really should have learned by now that I’m not a Democrat. They’re not my party; if you want to engage in political trash talk, go play with the Daily Kos crowd instead of wasting my time.

          1. Right, and I’m pointing out that Congress IS “working”. Bills are getting passed. Most nominees coast right through.

            Once you’ve demonstrated that legislation is still being enacted, and nominees are still getting confirmed, the charge of “gridlock” really collapses to “stuff *I* like isn’t getting through”. Something that’s going to be true for somebody unless Congress just indiscriminately passes everything that comes it’s way. Is that what you want? Seriously?

            I don’t see national concealed carry reciprocity passing. That national right to work bill is held up in committee. And I think we all agree that, even if they take the Senate, Republicans won’t have the votes to outright repeal Obamacare.

            Do I go around whining that Congress is “gridlocked” because of that? No, I do not. And I’m getting rather tired of people claiming that the system is broken just because they can’t get what they want through Congress. An awful lot of people cast votes with accomplishing that as their goal, is voting supposed to be futile?

            That’s a feature, not a bug. Controversial crap with support limited to one party, when the parties are at near parity, isn’t SUPPOSED to pass!

            Get over it, Congress doing what YOU want isn’t the definition of the institution working.

  7. In a strange way I agree with Brett, but I perhaps have a different take from what he might propose. For me, the cult of bipartisanship is at the root of the abuse of the filibuster – even though the filibuster is wielded in a partisan fashion, the ultimate rational for it is that when one party has a majority, they must still appease the minority party in some way. Instead of calling for more bipartisanship within a single congressional body, I would rather we get back to the most narrow and strict rules for the use of the filibuster.

  8. Intrade now give a generic Democrat a 30% chance of winning against Mourdock. A March poll gave Blue Dog Dem candidate Joe Donnelly slightly ahead over Mourdock. Still an uphill fight, but not a foregone conclusion, as it would have been against Lugar. Of course, what the Senate needs is more real carnivorous Democrats, but a Blue Dog is a lot better than a GOP caveman (cf. the passage of ACA).

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