THE HILL 02/06/08
By Michael Shank

In the article “Club for Growth goes after Gilchrest with ad buy” (Feb. 1), caustic conservatives, wielding a weighty $590,000 in television ad spending, queue to attack Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) prior to Maryland’s Feb. 12 GOP primary. Those in Washington favoring a deliberative and diplomatic democracy watch as a rare breed in Congress, to which Gilchrest belongs, faces near-extinction.

A veritable Lee Hamilton in terms of statesmanship and civility, this Maryland Republican’s style harkens back to a Congress of yesteryear where contemplative conversation regarding state and foreign affairs was commonplace.

Co-founding and co-chairing the House Dialogue Caucus with House Foreign Affairs Committee member Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Gilchrest often cites past presidential precedent, set by presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, and Reagan for engaged diplomacy with U.S. adversaries.

Now, concocting his own canoe-based diplomacy in an apparent attempt to walk the talk, Gilchrest will quip quietly on the House floor an offer to any congressional colleague: conversation via canoe on the river adjacent his home. As any diplomat knows, the environment is critical in facilitating friendship. With Gilchrest, this is no different: conviviality comes first, policy profundity second.

Sticking his neck out on countless measures, Gilchrest frequently risked all to encourage Congress to communicate with adversaries, not invade them, and to preserve the environment for the next generation by immediately addressing climate change. Often the swing vote on legislation related to Iraq and Iran, principles guided Gilchrest’s compass, not routine party preferences. Moreover, having served his country as a teacher and a decorated veteran from Vietnam, Gilchrest knows that sound domestic and foreign policymaking is not found in sound-bite rhetoric but thoughtful, deliberative dialogue with a vast variety of voters.

All this is lost if the Club for Growth’s nearly $600,000 sway constituents who may not sufficiently know what is at stake. Congress is slowly losing the deliberative bearings to which it once belonged. Democracy is serious business and no one recognizes this more than Rep. Gilchrest.

Michael Shank, Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
Arlington, Va.