A great editorial from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer; listen up America: Two distressing symptoms of acute civic illness
Two recent items might on the surface seem unrelated. They are, in fact, anything but.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said last month that a deficit-reduction plan put together by the bipartisan "Gang of Six" would probably not get much of a hearing on Capitol Hill.
"Leadership on both sides," Chambliss said, "has not been a real fan of our plan," for two reasons.
The first, disheartening enough by itself, is that said plan would involve "hard and tough" votes that might draw fire from key constituencies. (God forbid political courage for the greater good should trump political self-preservation.) The second, really just an extension of the first, is the intransigence of ideological purity: Democrats are unlikely to budge on spending or Republicans on taxes -- both of which are essential parts of the plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.
The other significant development was last week's Indiana Republican primary defeat of six-term Sen. Richard Lugar by challenger Richard Mourdock. Lugar, who like Chambliss had established respect in both parties for his willingness to reach across the aisle, was in the political crosshairs of tea party groups and conservative "Super PACs" such as FreedomWorks and Club for Growth.
Former Sen. Sam Nunn carved out a distinguished career as a moderate Georgia Democrat who was as likely to support a Reagan-backed bill or take issue with Bill Clinton as to support the party line. Nunn called his former colleague Lugar "a statesman in every sense of the word: smart, skillful, strategic, diplomatic and wise," and offered an observation that sounds very much like a warning: "Elections should serve as a reminder that no serious problem facing America today can be solved by one political party."
Reasonable people can reasonably disagree about the specifics of the Gang of Six deficit plan or the political virtues and shortcomings of Dick Lugar. And you can almost taste the sour grapes in Lugar's comments following his defeat.
But when the lame-duck senator deplores the relentless political purging of "those who stray from orthodoxy," he gets close to the heart of our political paralysis.
"Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle," Lugar said. "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."
When bipartisanship itself is a political liability, something is seriously askew.
The "big tents" both major parties used to claim as havens of inclusion have become forbidding fortresses surrounded by political moats. Compromise has become collaboration -- a word we associate not with spirited debate but with mortal enemies -- and "loyal opposition" has been all but hooted out of our political vocabulary.
As vital signs of civic health, none of this bodes well.