Monday, November 24, 2003

Lamenting the Withering State of Democratic Institutions

John Podesta of the Center for American Progress notes that while editorials decry this deterioration in Russia (most recently with the incarceration of Russian Oil tycoon, Mikhail Khodorkovsky), the "relentless attacks on our own governing intuitions by a radical, reckless congressional leadership" are underreported.

This heightened level of partisan politics was also the topic of a November 18th post on Nitpicker (Separate But Not Equal: The Government of Exclusion or New Congressional Politics).

Just last Saturday, after the House voted to reject the Medicare bill, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) held open a roll call vote, scheduled to last 15 minutes, for an unprecedented three hours, from 3 to 6 a.m. During that time Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas) and others strongarmed bleary-eyed Republicans who had voted against the bill, demanding they switch their vote. As night became morning, Delay wore his opposition down, votes switched, and the bill passed by a narrow margin.

The handling of the Medicare vote in the House is only the most recent example of a larger pattern. Over the last few years, conservative leaders hell-bent on consolidating power have taken every political and legislative opportunity to push an ideological agenda ? never letting a commitment to democratic principles or bi-partisanship get in the way of a chance to score political points. The result is an environment where compromise is precluded, reconciliation is elusive, sound public policy is a rarity and democratic traditions are routinely cast-aside.

Conservatives have also been a polarizing force in the political process. White House Political Director Karl Rove and Majority Leader Delay have aggressively pursued a national strategy to use control over state legislatures to consolidate congressional power through the redistricting process. In Texas, conservative state senators were encouraged to ram through a redistricting plan which, even proponents admit, was drawn for purely partisan purposes. When some state senators fled Texas in order to prevent the plan ? which would dramatically dilute the voting strength of minority voters ? from becoming law, Majority Leader Delay launched a frantic effort to enlist the Justice Department to track the fleeing senators down and arrest them. When the Justice Department refused, Delay enlisted the Department of Homeland Security, which should be spending time tracking down terrorists, to track down the absent state senators.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows that independent voters are growing tired of the policy consequences of conservatives? my-way-or-the-highway approach ? on issues such as national security, finance, Medicare and corporate malfeasance. This represents an opportunity for progressives, no matter what their party affiliation, to form a new working majority and get our country back on the right path. To do so will require progressives to reverse the current trend of polarization, reach out to broad range of the political spectrum and present a forward-looking, inclusive agenda to the American people.
Let's avail ourselves of that opportunity.


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