How can we expect civility in our country if Congress isn’t?
The way that U.S. senators and representatives from one party treat others from the opposing party not only spells the difference between progress and stalemate at Congress, it also provides a good indicator of how American people are going to treat others who may not agree with them.
Recently, some comments from former U.S. senator Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS) helped explain how national politics these days is different than prior to, and including, the time that she served in Congress.
In a story for the summer edition of The Journal, published by The Kansas Leadership Center at Wichita, Kassebaum said the relative civility that she and others enjoyed during their years serving in Congress seems to have vanished completely now and has been replaced with partisanship.
Kassebaum served as a U.S. senator for Kansas from 1978 to 1997. She now lives on her family ranch near Burdick, about 60 miles south of Manhattan.
“Today there’s not the respect for those who disagree with you,’’ Kassebaum said.
She’s right about Congress, and Americans are learning well from their elected officials about how to act, how to express kneejerk reactions and bash everyone who disagrees with them. How can we expect civility in our country, if Congress isn’t?
Kassebaum said that prior to and during her Senate service, regular order prevailed at Congress, which meant lots of work was done in committees involving senators from both parties, so the majority leader’s control was decreased and Republicans and Democrats were forced to work together to get things done.
These days, however, one lawmaker, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has much more control over the process, Kassebaum said.
Along the way, it’s become a lot tougher for senators to display the type of pragmatism that Kassebaum - and Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas - did on occasion. Kassebaum said the political costs of reaching across the aisle to Democrat senators are likely much greater now than they used to be.
Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy ranks senators based on their bipartisanship as measured by how often they sponsor or co-sponsor bills with members of the other party.
Kansas senator Jerry Moran ranked 61st, former senator Sam Brownback ranked 105th and Sen. Pat Roberts ranked 142nd out of the 250 senators between 1993 and 2018 that have been assigned lifetime rankings in the index.
Today, partisanship is the dominant force in the political dynamics of the U.S. senate, says Ed Flentje, professor emeritus at the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University.
Technological changes also push senators apart, Kassebaum said. The loss of respect among senators is fueled mainly by instantaneous information on social media and elsewhere online, and also by the enormous amounts of money required to compete in political campaigns.
“These factors are what have changed politics the most,’’ Kassebaum said.
The speed at which news and other information travel “leaves no time for reflection at all,’’ Kassebaum said, “so you’ve immediately built up a wall. This decreases flexibility in discussions and negotiations to understand issues and increases kneejerk conclusions.’’
Kassebaum also lamented how social media adds to conflicts by “making it easy to anonymously attack people and destroy their reputations and credibility.’’
“In the Senate, you have to be yourself and be honest with what you believe. And think about the big issues and cross the aisle without feeling like a traitor,’’ Kassebaum said.
There does not seem to be much success and compromise coming from the U.S. Senate, and Congress in general, these days. Our leaders do what is best for them and their party first and the American people second, maybe.
Not even the COVID-19 pandemic has been enough of a national crisis to bring Republican and Democrat leaders to common ground. The end result is a disservice to the American people, in my opinion.
Some of our leaders are not condemning the rioting in this country because they don’t want to look like they agree with the opposing party on anything. The result is more lawlessness and rioting. Children can tell the difference between peaceful protests and riots but some of our leaders can’t? As former Vice-President and presidential candidate Joe Biden might say, “C’mon, man!’’