Validation of one’s personal perspective is almost always sweet — but usually not bitter as well.
Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, recently penned a column in which he drew the distinction between political partisanship, bipartisanship and seeking solutions that actually address problems to get things done.
He started by noting that one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “enduring strengths” was “his rejection of ideological constraint.” FDR went after solutions, Feingold said, boldly and with conviction. And he took the country from the depths of the nation’s greatest economic depression to new heights.
At the time, however, Roosevelt’s actions were widely despised. He battled fiscal conservatives throughout his four terms — after having set up Social Security, the GI bill, the CCC work programs, beefed up the nation’s educational infrastructure and many other programs that often split the Congress into two camps: those for and those against. Feingold recalled the refrain often said of Roosevelt at the time that “never was one man loved by so many, and hated by so many.”
But Feingold drew a clear distinction between Roosevelt’s actions and the current political climate.
In this era of congressional dysfunction and extreme party partisanship, Feingold reminds us that FDR got the trains rolling again by “seeking solutions that actually addressed problems, no matter where those solutions might sit on the political spectrum. But freeing oneself from ideological restrictions is not the same as seeking the middle ground. Today, many prominent elected officials, as well as a few prominent editorial pages, tend to celebrate the centrist path no matter the policy outcome, and condescendingly reject ideas championed by those they believe occupy a less moderate position.”
“That,” he continued, “is utter nonsense. The test of an idea is not whether it belongs to the political left, right or center. The test of an idea is whether it will work. Yet, too many of our nation’s current political leaders seem to be captives of a kind of political GPS system, programmed to seek either a specific set of principles laid down by a fervent base or, alternatively, a political middle ground whose inhabitants observe profoundly that ‘both sides dislike it, so it must be right.’”
In current political terms, Feingold is making the case for current leaders (President Obama, in particular) to state their case with force and perseverance and in bold, far-reaching terms — and then be prepared to defend it. Let the message stand up to challenges; and take on the ideas of his challengers.
Such boldness might be one reason Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is having success in the polls right now. He’s not mincing his message and he’s winning over the GOP faithful. He has even dared to take on Social Security, the third rail of politics, and — so far — he’s survived. And if he would take on the bloated federal defense budget, he might even pick up a few independents.
Like Roosevelt, Gov. Perry would be a national leader that would likely be loved by many, andhated by many. But unlike Roosevelt, Perry is an extreme partisan. Like 99 percent of Tea Party Republicans, they judge candidates and issues on a strict belief system that may or not be based in reality, be good for the country, or have a chance in Hades of becoming law. As a party, their personal bias trumps the public good.
And that’s the ruin of the Republican Party: It is no longer a party that has the nation’s interest at heart. It is a party that picks its favorite subsets (no to abortion, no to immigrants, no to civil rights, but let’s keep government out of our lives; yes to big oil, no to environmental protection, no to government incentives on renewable energy; yes to the military and the Patriot Act, but no to new taxes and bigger deficits; yes to big business, no to government regulations… and on and on.) But never do they define a cohesive strategy that weaves these subsets into a plan that is not contradictory.
On the other side of the political aisle, centrist Democrats have been too quick to seek a middle road and in the process give up meaningful reform. In those instances, “bipartisanship,” Feingold says, “is not so much members of different parties’ hammering out meaningful solutions as it is a group of middle-grounders who can be relied upon to embrace impotent proposals.
“To many inside the Beltway,” Feingold observes, “partisanship itself has become its own hollow ideology.
“True bipartisanship,” he concludes, “can be a powerful engine of pragmatic solutions,” as when he partnered with Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, to pass the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill. “But we shouldn’t confuse real efforts at cooperation with those that cloak the inadequacy of a middle road to nowhere with the label of bipartisanship. They make some editorial boards happy, but they won’t get the job done.”
This writer often gets slammed for being “too biased,” “too opinionated,” “too one-sided” in the editorials that appear on this page each Monday and Thursday. I never disagree that my opinions are biased and quite often one-sided. Opinions, by definition, are the bias of one’s personal beliefs.
But are they “too biased,” “too one-sided”? Certainly that’s a subjective call, but what I try to do is explain the issue and then state what I think is in the best interest of the common good — regardless of where it sits on the political spectrum. I try to state those ideas succinctly and without hesitation. I usually don’t hedge my instinct; don’t add a lot of sugar with the medicine.
That Feingold validates a bolder and pragmatic approach to political discourse — without seeking a watered-down middle ground in which compromise means mediocrity — is gratifying.
That Perry is also by my side is a bitter pill, indeed. Pass the sugar.