Thursday, October 8, 2009

Who Shot John?

I don’t know who fired the first volley. I am not sure when all the political hostilities began. I don’t know who shot John, or whatever it was that started the latest version of the legendary Hatfield and McCoy feud. The Hatfield and the McCoy families went after each other for several decades over a pig. These days Republicans and Democrats appear to be feuding over pork among other things.

The ideological divide within this great nation has grown to epidemic proportions over the last few decades. I attribute part of this divisiveness to the journalists who have made a national pastime of playing “Gotcha” with politicians ever since Woodward and Bernstein tasted President Nixon’s blood during Watergate. Somehow, from that point forward, Americans have developed disdain for public service, contempt for politics, and diminished respect public offices such as the Presidency.

I get nearly a dozen emails a day that refer to tax payer revolts, revolution, tyranny, and vote the rascals out. Even more disturbing for me are the messages that use inappropriate humor or suggest that the cost of travel and security for the President and his family are waste, fraud, and abuse. Now, if you know me, then you know that most of my emails are from conservative organizations, but I know the liberal outfits are out there doing the same thing. I see it on Facebook and in the media. They most definitely went after George W. Bush with a vengeance and irrational anger that was unparalleled in it ferocity. By now many of you are probably saying to yourselves that I should either “unsubscribe” or utilize the “delete” button on my keyboard.

But, remember that this is America and the First Amendment affords all of us the inalienable right to free speech. Unfortunately, that does not make everything we say “right” or “productive.” Free flow of information, honest debate on the issues and policies, civil discourse, agreeing to disagree—those are all the attributes that make this country great and strong.

My concern is that we appear to have devolved into name calling, slander, and a kind of ugliness that should, quite frankly, be an embarrassment to us all. So, again, I ask, “Who shot John?” Who crossed the line first? Who fired the first salvo at the figurative Concord that started this modern-day war of words?

The answer to this question is elusive. It is a little like trying to figure out how the Arab-Israeli conflict got started. Let’s face it; that one started several millennia ago, and at this point in time, it really doesn’t matter who committed the first wrong.

As I look back on this contemporary conflict that has grown to an epic scale, I have to say—and you have no idea how much this hurts—that it began with the Republican Revolution of 1994. Having said that, let me lay some ground work for what happened and why, not to justify it, just to better understand it.

In 1994, the Republicans swept into the majority in both the U. S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for the first time in some 40 years. This was especially significant for the House Republicans of that time, many of whom had known nothing but a Democrat majority in the House all of their lives.

When you are in the minority, regardless of your party, you do not control the legislative agenda. The only available tactic is to oppose and defeat the legislative programs of the majority. You become an attack dog of sorts. There is nothing really wrong with that; it’s just the way of legislating. Legislators don’t operate in the world of cooperation and collaboration. Their world is dominated by a divide-and-conquer mentality.

After 40 some years as legislative naysayers, the newly established Republican majority had a difficult time making the transition from opposing everything to developing and driving an affirmative legislative agenda. Oh, there was the Contract for America, but that was short lived and Republicans soon found themselves back in the old mold. And, of course, there was President Clinton, a prime target for any red-blooded Republican. He raised taxes, he pushed health care reform, and his moral conduct was not quite what many Americans considered appropriate for a President. And after 12 years of Republican Presidential appointments for Federal judgeships being filibustered to death by Senate Democrats, Clinton’s judicial appointees became fair game for the new Republican majority.

Fast forward to when the Democrats regained the majority in the U.S. House in 2006. Pay backs are heck, and in this case, it was heck for the Republicans in Congress and for President Bush’s judicial nominees.

As we look toward the next mid-term election in November 2010, the political landscape begins to look a lot like the mid-term election in 1994. Two years of a Democrat in the White House who followed a Republican who was there for eight years. Remember, Clinton followed 12 years of Republican Presidents. I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would put even money on another Republican Revolution in 2010.

But, in order for a Republican Revolution to happen in 2010, the Republicans need a revolution of their own—inside the party. Republicans must turn away from pork-barrel spending. They must turn away from corruption and scandals. They must accept responsibility and stop blaming the Democrats for all their woes. And most of all, Republicans must have a vision for America—one that takes us back to what made this country great and one that involves being brutally honest with themselves and straight forward with the voters. Republicans need to pursue this vision grounded in principles such as integrity, strength of conviction, accountability to the voters, and adherence to what is right and good for America.

If Republicans can do all of this and more, if Republicans can turn the other cheek, then they can look forward to a new day and it won’t matter one whit “Who shot John?”

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