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Washington D.C. and the mainstream media were abuzz last week with the news that Indiana Senator Evan Bayh is the latest Democrat to balk at running again. Bayh vented his frustration with serving in Congress in recent years, saying it was too partisan to work.
What he didn’t explain was why he waited until a day or so before the filing deadline to quit, thereby punishing his own party in its efforts to find someone to replace him.
Bayh’s decision seemed sudden, even mysterious; he had about $13 million in his campaign fund and a comfortable lead in the polls. He’s seen the Obama agenda - which he presumably supports - held up in Congress by the right-wing Republicans, yet he chose to tarnish both parties with the sin of extreme bipartisanship.
Now he’s being portrayed as this wonderful and brave moderate, a poster child for the well-meaning political leader who just can’t stomach how “partisan” both parties have become. I don’t buy it.
If you despise the partisanship in Washington, you have to be pretty clueless not to see where most of it has come from since Obama’s inauguration, and even in the years before that. Rush Limbaugh, a touchstone for most conservatives, said from the start that he only wished for Obama to fail, and Republican policy in Congress has been exactly that.
Since when did the party in the majority routinely assume that it needed 60 votes - a “supermajority” - to pass something in the Senate rather than a simple majority of 51? The answer: since conservative Republicans burn with the fire of their ideology so intensely that they’ll do anything, including filibusters, to stop the agenda of this new president.
Obama has pleaded with national Republicans to work with him. But all they do is demonize his policies with the tar of “socialism” and stand in his way. They have no respect whatsoever for the mandate he was given by the voters in 2008, who chose him when they knew he wanted national health care, tax cuts for the middle class instead of the rich, and to get out of Iraq.
I’m not saying that Republicans shouldn’t fight for their views on these issues, but the Congress and the White House are Democratic because that’s what most voters chose. Were it not for the ideological passions of today’s “conservative movement,” the word “mandate” would mean what it used to mean: that people have a right to expect that, generally, a president they chose should get what he and they want passed.
There used to be what was called a “liberal consensus” in Washington, when both parties generally believed that the national government was an agent that must do good for the country. Both the Democratic and the Republican parties contained a mixture of moderates, liberals and conservatives.
But then Barry Goldwater arrived and brought the modern “conservative movement” with him. Suddenly, government - unless it was funding the military - was evil. The creepy ideas of novelist Ayn Rand, who said that altruism itself - the very impulse to do good - was wrong, became acceptable as conservatives slowly took over the Republican Party.
Yes, Democrats have mostly become the party of traditional liberalism. But there’s a large and vocal “Blue Dog” caucus of moderates and conservatives in the Democratic Party. Republicans have purged themselves of anyone who doesn’t fire-breathe conservative ideology. There is no liberal version of “Blue Dogs” in the GOP, and everyone knows it.
So, if it’s partisanship you blame for the problems in our government, then you need to see where it comes from: the Republicans in Congress and the extreme conservative virus with which they’ve been infected.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.