We seem to be living in some pretty troubled times.
Lots of people have lost faith in government and the approval rating of Congress is at an all-time low.
According to a new poll from Quinnipiac University, more Americans identify President Barack Obama as the worst occupant of the Oval Office since World War II than any other postwar president, including President Richard Nixon.
Of course, you can take all that polling stuff with a grain of salt. There are a lot of variables that play into the answers respondents give.
Nonetheless, polls do send a clear message that a majority of people think this country is headed down the wrong path.
That’s really kind of sad. But frankly, who could blame them?
It seems our leaders are incapable of working together.
I’ve been watching politics for a long time and I must say I don’t recall a time that was more divisive.
When Newt Gingrich and the Republicans wrested control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats in 1994, it was the first time that happened in more than 40 years.
Gingrich and the GOP campaigned on the “Contract With America.”
The contract was a document that came out during the 1994 Congressional election campaign. It spelled out conservative measures the Republicans promised to put forth if they became the majority party.
Now, to be sure, Democrats weren’t happy about this. They called the document the “Contract On America” and were highly critical of its contents.
But after the election, when the Republicans took over the House of Representatives, President Clinton and Congress worked together to pass some pretty meaningful reforms.
Things like a balanced budget amendment and welfare reform. Under Clinton’s watch, the federal budget was carefully scrutinized and the deficit was the lowest it had been in more than a decade.
He passed a huge crime bill, putting more cops on the street. He bartered tax cuts for aid to Medicare and Social Security.
All that stuff sounds conservative, no?
But also under Clinton was the Brady Bill, assault weapons ban and strict gun control measures. He ended the ban on gays in the military with “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” He stood against big tobacco.
He presided over a generally healthy economy, adding jobs, improving growth and seeing an increase in the average income of Americans. The level of poverty decreased.
A lot of meaningful stuff got done while Bill Clinton was president. But did this mean that he and the Republicans were buddies?
Are you kidding?
There was the time the government was shut down for seven days in 1995 over a budget impasse.
There was Whitewater – the relentless investigation into the real estate investments of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Jim and Susan McDougal in the Whitewater Development Corporation
Anybody remember Kenneth Starr?
And finally, there was the Monica Lewinsky scandal during which President Clinton admitted he lied under oath.
At that time, Democrats were in the minority in both chambers of Congress.
The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
After a Senate trial, all the Democrats in the Senate voted for acquittal on both the perjury and the obstruction of justice charges. Ten Republicans voted for acquittal on perjury and five Republicans voted for acquittal on obstruction of justice.
Clinton was acquitted of all charges and got to remain president.
So what’s the point of all this 1990s history?
Only this:
No matter how acrimonious. No matter how rancorous. No matter how vicious the politics of the 1990s became, our leaders were, at least, leaders.
They still managed to get stuff done. They still managed to pass meaningful legislation. And whether you agreed with the laws that were passed or not, laws were passed. Changes were made that catered to members of both parties. They were able to work together, to compromise.
And by most measures, times were pretty good for the average American.
Not so much today.
There is still all the rancor and acrimony, but that’s all there is. There’s no real policy. There are speeches, threats and demagoguery, but there’s no work getting done.
And when the work isn’t getting done, things start to get a little dicey. When you ignore problems, they get worse, until they reach the point of crisis.
That’s what I see happening in today’s America. Our government knew for months there was an impending immigration crisis building with an influx of unaccompanied alien children from Central America.
Nothing was done.
Now the president has asked for $3.8 billion tax dollars to throw at the problem.
Flashpoints in the Middle East have been flaring for the better part of three years now and the government seems surprised by terror groups tightening their grip on large expanses of sovereign nations.
A sluggish economy and unemployment above 6 percent seem to be the new normal as the labor participation rate falls each month.
In the meantime, what are our leaders in Washington doing?
Fundraising, that’s what.
As sad as all this is, sadder still is what I believe the future holds. With campaign finance the way it is today – corporations are people, you see – only more money will pour into the political process.
With gerrymandering in place, more and more “ideologically pure” candidates will find their way to Washington, widening the political divide and making compromise even more rare.
The ability to compromise, once thought as a hallmark of leadership, is now considered a weakness. Those who seek to reach across the aisle end up getting replaced.
Leadership in Washington today has little to do with doing what’s best for the American people. Leadership today means mollifying your political benefactors so you can retain power.
That’s no way to run a country.