Lately, I've been feeling a sentiment that I don't often feel about politics: frustration. I'm certainly not alone in this sentiment but as someone who has spent the last 20-plus years of her life studying politics, it's a rare experience.
Brief pause while we all calculate the fact that I am now dinosaur old. Gah.
My frustration has to do with the ways in which politics is no longer about leadership but instead is about winning. Lately, I am disappointed by my leaders and the chattering classes. In a bit of irony not lost on me, I'm teaching about FDR's first 100 days in office just as I am watching President Obama accomplish the same. The parallels are too obvious to ignore.
In 1933, there was a sense in Congress that the parties must come together to solve the nation's problems; a sense that our nation would sink or swim as one. I do not have that feeling these days. There are so many examples of our failure to work together.
Republicans are irate that Democrats, the party with the majority in both houses of Congress, would dare to pass a budget by majority vote. That process, called reconciliation, is a process Republicans repeatedly used when they had the majority and George Bush was in the White House. And in a largely majoritarian system, it's perfectly reasonable for the party with the majority to go ahead and govern. But the Republicans want to option to filibuster everything.
President Obama's first judicial nominee is a well-respected moderate, James Hamilton. He was chosen precisely to signal the president's willingness to compromise and to get past endless hand-wringing and political conflict over judicial nominations. And what does that earn the president? A screeching speech by Senator James Inohofe, Republican of Oklahoma, pledging to filibuster this nominee. In 2003, when his party controlled the Senate, Inohofe declared that Senate filibuster of presidential judicial nominees would be unconstitutional. Then, and now, Inohofe is a ridiculous buffoon. Surely there is a level-headed Republican willing to call him on it? I wait in vain.
And don't get me started on the Tea Party protests of last week. My favorite moment from that day of nonsense is Texas Governor Rick Perry's declaration that Texas might just secede from the Union (he claims it is the state's constitutional right, suggesting that Texas needs some help with the teaching of U.S. history). Secede? Are you serious?
Newt Gingrich's condemnation of President Obama, who dared to shake the hand of a foreign leader, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, may defuse my amusement about the Tea Party nonsense. Setting aside the insanity of the current Gingrich renaissance, let's just be realistic about America's relationship with the rest of the world. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan could talk with the Soviet Union while they pointed dozens of lethal nuclear weapons at us, but Obama can't shake hands with Chavez? Because, honestly, at the point that our nation's leader cannot be civil to those with whom we disagree.....well, words fail me.
Enough. We have plenty of problems in this nation and in our world. Happily, we don't lack for ideas and resources to begin to address our problems. But if we can't have thoughtful exchanges of policy options; if we can't agree to work together and move ourselves forward, then we will fail.
And if that happens, we will only have ourselves to blame. I don't know about the rest of you, but to me it will be cold comfort.