Saturday, February 18, 2017

'Bipartisan cooperation' most definitely “dirty words” from the political past

I remember a moment from just over two decades ago when I overheard then-Gov. Jim Edgar engaging in political chit-chat with one of his aides.

MICHEL: Tried to bring pols together
Their subject? The retirement of long-time Peoria-area Congressman Bob Michel from Capitol Hill – including his post as leader of the House Republican caucus.

THE GIST OF their conversation? Wasn’t it a shame that Michel, who served for 38 years in Congress until his decision to retire following the 1994 election cycle, never got a chance to be Speaker of the House of Representatives?

Sure enough, the era in which Michel was a part of Illinois’ congressional delegation was one in which Democrats had control over the U.S. House the entire time.

Michel was the leader of Republicans for the final 14 years of his time in Congress, and developed a reputation as a person who could reach a deal with the opposition.

Which from his perspective meant he could achieve some goals for his constituents, even though technically he and his supposed allies were in the minority. Bipartisan cooperation as it can work, if everybody is willing to give a little and doesn’t adopt the attitude that political victory means squashing the opposing caucus into dust!

WHICH MOST DEFINITELY is the prevailing attitude of today – one that Republicans brought to bear in Washington right upon Michel’s demise. Because that election cycle in which he retired was the one in which Republicans gained a House of Representatives majority for the first time in decades.
TRUMP: Is his presidency the anti-Michel?

Not that anybody believes Michel should have held on for another term or two to be a boss on Capitol Hill. Because it usually is regarded by political observers that it was the change in leadership that helped cause the Republican rise to power.

Because it was the election cycle that resulted in Newt Gingrich becoming something more than just a congressman from Georgia, but a national figure who gave us the “Contract with America” that was a blatantly partisan political document meant to establish the ideals of a rural segment of our nation.

It certainly is a significant part of the path that has led our nation to our current predicament of a president openly hostile toward anyone who doesn’t share his own ideological agenda and more than willing to be vindictive to those not exactly like himself.
GINGRICH: He sides w/ Trump

I REMEMBER MICHEL being replaced in his congressional seat by Ray LaHood, his one-time chief of staff who later became Transportation secretary under President Barack Obama and, it turns out, became one of the few Republicans who rejected the Contract with America concept, and was also one of the few people amongst Republican ideologues who didn’t denounce Michel as a part of the failed concept of cooperation.

As though war and hostilities with the opposition party were the only way to achieve the goals one desired, while also crushing anything other people might want. It certainly isn’t a coincidence that the modern-day Gingrich was one of the few Republicans who openly backed Donald J. Trump’s political aspirations throughout last year’s election cycle.

Michel was a Republican, but he was one that I often heard older Democratic political operatives speak highly of – just because it was possible for things to be accomplished, unlike the age of ranting and raging that was developing then and has matured some two decades later, so to speak, into an obnoxious adulthood.
LaHOOD: At times, carried on Michel's spirit

It is one that I often wonder if it is to blame on my own generation, since it seems that many of the political operatives of today came of age back around this era and aren’t that much older than I am now. Or as Michel himself told the D.C.-based “Roll Call” newspaper in an interview not long ago, “I have to sometimes shake my head and say ‘My God.’ It is a far different place than it was in those days.”

MICHEL, OF COURSE, crops up into my mind on account of his death on Friday at age 93 following a bout with pneumonia. How amenable was he? Consider that for his 90th birthday, a party managed to include former House speakers of both political persuasions to pay tribute to the man who once tried to bring people together. Both Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., were on the guest list, along with our state’s very own Denny Hastert.
RAUNER: Could he use bipartisanship lessons?

That nature was acknowledged by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who issued his own statement praising Michel’s memory. “Best known for his bipartisan style and working cooperatively with Democrats and Republicans alike, he was beloved by all,” the governor said. Ironic, considering how much trouble the governor has in grasping the concept of bipartisan cooperation.

Perhaps the death of Michel is a moment we can use to reflect upon what has been lost by our own ability as a society to come together and use the government process to try to achieve things on behalf of our society.

In this “Age of Trump,” that seems like such an alien concept – in that the have-nots have to worry about what government intends to do TO them so as to assuage the presidential ego! And the inability to work together stretching into a third year without a state budget.


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