Gridlock is Death for Deliberation

Gridlock is Death for Deliberation

FINANCIAL TIMES 05/21/12
By Michael Shank

Sir, Edward Luce is spot on regarding Capitol Hill appraisal of partisanship pulling punches on solutions (“Why Washington gridlock is here to stay”, Book Review, May 14). One solution – speaking as a left-leaning voter who once worked for a Republican Congressman – is to clean Congress, and its campaigns, of the ill-begotten influence of money. To prove the point, Club for Growth’s latest ouster: Republican Senator Dick Lugar.

Senator Lugar this month joins the ranks of his ousted moderate colleagues and predecessors, from former Senators Chuck Hagel and Lincoln Chafee to former Representatives Wayne Gilchrest, Chris Shays and Sherwood Boehlert. I interned for Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, who represented Maryland’s first district.

Despite having only ever voted for Democratic or independent elected officials, I was so impressed with the congressman that I defended him publicly after Club for Growth went after Mr Gilchrest with a $600,000 ad buy. Writing for a Hill newspaper, I suggested that Mr Gilchrest was “a veritable Lee Hamilton in terms of statesmanship and civility,” and that “this Maryland Republican’s style harkens back to a Congress of yesteryear where contemplative conversation regarding state and foreign affairs was commonplace”.

Mr Gilchrest undermined the Washington gridlock, of which Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein write. This was true of Mr Lugar as well. Both Mr Lugar and Mr Gilchrest stuck their necks out on countless measures, frequently risking much to encourage Congress to communicate with adversaries, not invade them, or to preserve the environment for the next generation by addressing climate change. Mr Lugar and Mr Gilchrest, furthermore, knew that sound domestic and foreign policy making was not found in sound-bite rhetoric but thoughtful, deliberative dialogue with a vast variety of voters. Yet, thanks to the moneyed Club for Growth and organisations like it, Congress is slowly losing the deliberative bearings to which it once belonged.

Members of Congress must be able to approach each issue with nuance and contemplation, irrespective of party stance. With the overwhelming financial tide of Super PACS beginning to swell we will see even less congressional decision-making based on moral compass and an increasing majority of decisions based on political premise and financial prowess. This heralds the death of deliberative democracy that represents the peopled majority.

The lesson, then, from Mr Lugar’s loss is that Mr Mann and Mr Ornstein’s “it’s worse than it looks” culture is, in fact, worsening.

Michael Shank, US Vice President, Institute for Economics and Peace, Washington, DC, US