Both political parties never seem to tire in repeating the story of how Republican president Ronald Reagan and Democrat Tip O’Neil, after a long day of battle, would frequently adjourn to a quiet place in the White House to share a drink and some Irish humor. Reagan was more successful in getting legislation passed with Democrats in control of the House, and the Senate during the last two years of his presidency, than Jimmy Carter accomplished in four years of Democratic control of both Houses.
There may have been other factors involved in bipartisan legislation during the Reagan era, but without evidence to the contrary, the relationship between the two most powerful men in Washington probably contributed to this success.
Up until roughly sometime in the 1980s, it was not uncommon for our elected representatives to move their families to Washington where they purchased or rented a home. Back then the vast majority were men, so wives formed relationships with other wives to get together for coffee, lunch, day trips, and other social gatherings, and their children played together. Gatherings did not discriminate by political affiliation. Perhaps most importantly, though, were the dinners where spouses were also invited.
I think it’s fair to say that it’s a lot easier to dislike someone from a distance than when you get to know the individual on a personal level and discover that there are a lot of commonalities in both personal and work life. These dinners had an effect of humanizing opponents when they got to know each other away from the Capitol.
Those days are long over. How many of our representatives sleep in their offices because they can’t afford housing in the Washington area? Families no longer move to Washington, and the normal workweek for representatives ends on Thursday as they head home for the weekend, which doesn’t leave much time for socializing.
Compounding this situation is that both political parties have become so polarized, to be seen having a beer or coffee with a member of the other party can be the end of one’s political career. Times changed---and not for the better. Considering that eighty-eight percent of the members of congress identify as Christian, is it not fair to ask if they are familiar with the passage in the 23rd Psalm: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies….; my cup runneth over.”
President Joe Biden has proposed a $3 trillion infrastructure bill that includes other unrelated priorities. I think it’s safe to say that we all have been inconvenienced by never-ending road, bridge, and tunnel repair work. The FAA has been working to update the aircraft control system, municipalities have antiquated water and sewer systems, to include wooden pipes well over a century old in New York. And our public transit, such as the NYC subways, needs billions of dollars to replace outdated signals and other safety equipment.
Probably most remember the 40 year old bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed in 2007, a portent perhaps of many more catastrophes if we ignore this problem.
In 2016, former president Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to get a costly infrastructure bill passed. He was right and had bipartisan support, at least initially, that fell apart when Trump came under investigation involving Ukraine and pulled back from further negotiations with Democrats.
The proposed Biden package should be argued, debated, disputed, and result in a compromise that provides for some infrastructure relief. Untold numbers of professional people ranging from engineers, architects, construction workers, technicians, et al, all in the private sector, would light up the economy. Their spending would trickle down to restaurants, mom and pop businesses of every type, and into most communities in America. And the money each made would be taxable on all levels and turn many unemployed workers into taxpayers.
The likelihood of Biden’s proposal advancing with bipartisan support is probably close to zero. Reagan’s famous quote, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit”, has unfortunately become nothing more than a banality.
In today’s Washington, if one political party controls both Houses, we only need that majority political party to show up to the Capitol for work. The minority party is not there to legislate or compromise. Republicans could do a lot of good by working with Democrats, and vice versa, on this much needed infrastructure proposal.
But this will play out with fights concerning eliminating the filibuster, efforts in this instance to prevent a Democratic victory even though it could be portrayed as a bipartisan victory for the American people, and in the end the American people will be the losers.
It’s only going to get worse. And it’s pointless to put all the blame on one side or another. There is room all around for taking responsibility for the political divide today. Don’t look for statesmen, who have become relics. Like other historical memories, they have gone with the wind.