Whoever wins, partisanship hurts Congress

The excessive partisanship of this year’s midterm election cycle was summed up for me by one Ned Lamont radio attack ad. The gist of the ad mirrored exactly the crux of Lamont’s campaign as I understand it: Joe Lieberman is a sellout who, by compromising with the Republican Party, has betrayed the values of the Democratic Party. Therefore, he’s not a real Democrat and you should vote for Ned Lamont, who is a real Democrat because he opposes the war in Iraq.

Only a couple of years ago, compromise was a virtue in American politics. John McCain — before he became a Bush administration mouthpiece — was widely hailed from both sides of the aisle for being a “moderate maverick” who, in seeking bipartisan solutions to problems as varied as torture and campaign finance, deserved our praise and also our votes in his future presidential run. Anyone remember the group of 14 moderate senators (seven Republicans and seven Democrats, including both McCain and Lieberman) who brokered a compromise that saved the filibuster and averted a potential Senate deadlock over Bush’s judicial nominees? That compromise was generally applauded, except by the radical wings of both parties.

Fast-forward to October 2006. As Paul Krugman pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed, this election is all about party affiliation. If you want a Democratic majority in the legislature, you vote Democrat. If you want two more years of Republican majority, you vote Republican. Krugman offers an important reason for this new wave of partisanship. Control of at least one house of Congress will allow Democrats to open investigations into Bush administration incompetence and corruption over the past six years: the reasons we’re in Iraq, the White House’s cozy relationship with lobbyists, the radical (and potentially illegal) measures that the administration has taken to combat domestic terrorism.

I’ll readily admit to being of two minds about the preponderance of party politics in these elections. I think the Bush administration should be investigated for the sake of maintaining a limited, honest executive in this country. Allowing a president to avoid any legislative oversight for a disastrous war and potentially unconstitutional torture doctrines sets a bad precedent. If Monica Lewinsky merits a full investigation, so does a costly and counterproductive war.

My concern about a Democratic victory is that I’m not sure anyone in the Democratic Party has even considered what to do with a legislative majority beyond launching a series of investigations. The Democratic Party has no chance of gaining anything more than a token majority in either chamber of Congress — certainly not enough to overcome a Senate filibuster or override a presidential veto. And because radicals on both sides have destroyed any possibility of significant bipartisanship by making party loyalty the single most important virtue of a politician in these elections, there is little hope for the return of a spirit of consensus to Capitol Hill. The likely result? Two years of political stagnation marked by investigations into the past but no significant desire to improve the future, constant bickering about whom to blame for the inevitable political stalemate, and increased voter frustration with both parties and with Congress in general.

This country cannot afford to be swallowed by partisan bickering in a world marked by a nuclear-armed North Korea, domestic threats to fundamental liberties, and an insurgency in Iraq that killed 10 American servicemen on Tuesday and has killed 68 this month. Congress cannot continue to argue about Mark Foley’s sexual escapades while this country adds to one of the worst budget deficits in history. Our two parties cannot continue to erode public confidence in government with constant infighting at precisely the time that we need a strong, honest legislature to fix the problems of the past years and to confront new ones that emerge every day. It’s time for Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman, and the hundreds of other petty political bickerers seeking seats in our legislature, to finally wake up to the idea that it means much more to be an American than it does to be a Republican or a Democrat.

Xan White is a sophomore in Calhoun College. This is his first regular column.

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