There has been much discussion among political pundits this week regarding whether Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh’s decision not to run for re-election is a symptom of a broken U.S. Senate.
One of the major selling points of an Obama presidency was the promise of bipartisanship. Yet in the Senate, the simple threat of a filibuster by a 40-vote minority is enough to grind the lawmaking machinery to a standstill. (Yes, I know it is a 41-vote minority now, but this problem was happening well before Scott Brown was elected to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.)
I’m not pinning the ineffectiveness problem solely on the standing Republican threat to filibuster. I’m positive that at least several Republican senators would be more willing to reach across the political aisle if they didn’t have to worry about the severe backlash they would get from conservative pundits like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, not the mention the whole TEA Party movement.
You see, the Republicans who plan to stay in office are worried about losing support of the far right wing of their party. And now it seems that same worry is spilling over to the Democratic side, because Bayh reportedly told aides he is frustrated with the far left wing of his party, including leftist bloggers who have been blasting him for not agreeing with every single thing the Obama administration has proposed.
The “us and them” mentality has never been so apparent in Congress. Whether it’s the Republicans or Democrats, politicians are clearly scared of what partisan pundits and vocal citizens publicly say about them, more than they ever seemed to worry about them before.
I’m not saying people don’t have the right to criticize politicians – they absolutely do, and I do my fair share of it – but to distill everything into black and white – or red and blue, if you prefer – does a disservice to the issues Congress needs to address.
And I’m convinced the partisan pundits – the ones who are quick to call politicians who don’t toe their party lines un-American – are really the ones undermining our political process, and they don’t care if they do, as long as they make plenty of money while doing it.
This needs to change. Unfortunately, it increasingly seems we’re past the point of no return.
This column was originally published in the Feb. 18 edition of Ottawa Delivered.