Thank goodness, members of Congress do not drive in the Indianapolis 500.
“Disaster” would not begin to describe such a fiasco. Instead of applying speed and racing skill to progress through a field of 32 other drivers, a contingent of congressional racers would employ extreme measures. They’d drive their 200 laps around the 21⁄2-mile oval clockwise, opposite the traditional direction — “Turn left? Heck, no. We’re turning right from now on, and everybody else better do it our way.”
Mayhem? Black flags? Gridlock? Grandstands full of confused, irritated, disappointed people? Of course. But most importantly — at least in the minds of those defiant political racers — they would not budge, or compromise. They win.
That attitude now dominates Congress, where our elected officials are forcing the nation to re-live the debt-ceiling debate in “Groundhog Day” fashion.
Instead of dealing separately with the various components of the debt problem, such as particularly Medicare, they’re capitalizing on its election-year value by chaining such necessary work to the formality of raising the debt limit to pay the country’s outstanding bills. Like that Speedway scenario, the extremists remain unfazed by potential harm, such as another recession or weakened credit ratings.
Such impasse is the status quo in the 112th Congress.
An organization known as No Labels came up with “12 ways to make Congress work.” The first: no budget, no pay. If Congress can’t pass a budget and all spending bills on time, the members don’t get paid. That makes perfect sense.
No Labels identifies itself as a grassroots organization, neither Republican nor Democrat, conservative nor liberal, aiming instead to be “a voice to the disengaged majority.” Among the co-founders of the group that formed in 2010 is Evan Bayh, the former U.S. senator and governor from Indiana. After two terms in Congress, Bayh decided not to seek a third term. At that moment, his label, “moderate,” had become unacceptable on the growing polar ice caps of politics.
Washington accomplishes even less now. Bayh and No Labels hope voters in November support candidates anxious to find solutions.
“If they can find candidates who embody that kind of approach, I think [those candidates] will do pretty well,” Bayh said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “But if to the extent that any election devolves into a political food fight, then I think people say, ‘A pox on both your houses.’”
Just as in that fictional Indy 500, a large faction of extremists would have been unproductive among the Founding Fathers. “The country itself is a compromise,” Bayh said. “The United States of America wouldn’t exist if the founders of our country hadn’t been willing to put the sake of the country overhead of more parochial interests.” The 13 former colonies held deep disagreements, he explained.
“And it was a close call to whether America would be one nation, or 13 separate nations,” Bayh added. “I think it’s fortunate for us that the all-or-nothing approach that is so prevalent today in Washington didn’t exist back then, or there would not be a United States of America.”
That said, with Bayh and fellow No Labels supporters pushing for more compromise and less party-line behavior, why would he further deplete the number of centrists in Congress by stepping away from it all? Among several reasons, the climate just got too nasty for legislators willing to cross the political aisle. He painted a realistic picture of life in the middle on Capitol Hill.
“This is a particularly miserable time to be a moderate in our politics,” Bayh said, “because you tend to get shot at from both sides. I’m also more independent by nature, and it’s at a time when Congress is demanding down-the-line party and ideological loyalty, and that’s just not me.”
Those who buck the party-line expectations pay a price.
“For example, your bills don’t come up for a vote; your amendments don’t come up for a vote; you don’t get put on the committees that deal with the issues that are important to your state or that you care about,” Bayh said. “There are numerous ways, large and small, that the powers find their displeasure known; and that’s OK. On a personal level, you can take all that. But it basically neuters you and makes you ineffective. Well, the people who sent you to Washington have a right to expect you to be in a position to actually get things done. So that’s the balance that’s always a struggle.”
Americans at least 20 years old have witnessed the results of centrist prosperity in the 1990s.
“Bill Clinton started off running [for president] and said he stood for ‘a third way,’ right?” Bayh recalled. “Not far left, and not far right. He’s a friend of mine, so maybe I’m biased, but a lot of people look back now and say, ‘You know, that approach left this country with a balanced budget and a budget surplus. We had a strong economy, with lots of new, good jobs being created. We reformed welfare, trying to move people off government assistance and into paying jobs.’
“So that approach worked all right,” he continued, “Maybe we ought to try it more often.”
Cynics on the fringes will quickly credit Republicans in Congress, back then, for economic successes in the Clinton era. But, actually, that’s the whole point. Somehow, flawed people with divergent views found enough middle ground to eventually produce acceptable results, even after standoffs and federal government shutdowns.
Right now, it appears the powers in Congress are quite content to inflict default and dysfunction, rather than yield to negotiation.
Those politicians mistakenly think they have a mandate to be rigid. They’re giving themselves too much credit. Most of us don’t think those politicians are smart enough to have all the right answers.
“My strong sense is that people are very unhappy with Washington, and what they’re really looking for is more practical leadership and results,” Bayh said. “They don’t care so much about the labels you attach to it — Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative. They want results — what creates jobs, what will get the deficit down, what will make health care more affordable [and] college more accessible? Those kind of real, middle-class, nuts-and-bolts issues. And they’re just going to keep voting against people until they finally get some better result.”
What are the chances of that happening? Winning your office Indy 500 pool is a safer bet.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bayh sees alternative grassroots groups giving voice to Americans demanding solutions, not point-scoring
Thank goodness, members of Congress do not drive in the Indianapolis 500.
Noteworthy in the news: Another landmark for Pat Rady
A few weeks ago, Pat Rady embarked on his 50th year as a head basketball coach. Last weekend, he punctuated his landmark season at Cloverdale High School in Putnam County with the 724th victory of his stellar career, a mark that makes him the second winningest coach — and tops among active coaches — in Indiana basketball. It’s a remarkable achievement, and he appears to be going strong.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 11, 2013
RONN MOTT: Seeds from the same tree
Mahatma Gandhi, who was born in India before the turn of the 20th Century, went to England to study law and decided to settle in South Africa, and he did for 20 years. His work in South Africa was involved in the right of his Indian neighbors to have equal access to civil rights. He also worked for the indigenous people as well. When the people of India became restive during the early days of World War I, Gandhi came home.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 10, 2013
• Proud of diploma from McLean HS
• Sports could use drone’s eye view
• Another great downtown fest
• ISU’s silence is disappointing
MS. TAKES: Important date passes by without much notice
Recently we were asked to share our memories of the Kennedy assassination. Folks were interviewed for television or radio, or were asked to recall exactly what they were doing when they got word that our president had been murdered.
GUEST EDITORIAL: Lack of vaccinations puts children, community at risk
U.S. vaccination programs appear to have become a victim of their own success. Because many parents have never experienced the effects of childhood diseases such as mumps or measles — let alone polio — they don’t always appreciate the health risks the diseases pose and the continuing need for vaccinations.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 9, 2013
Remove politics from education
FLASHPOINT: Dealing with hunger requires less rhetoric, more action
In November, millions of families in Indiana and across the nation saw their Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits cut through a planned phase-out of a temporary increase in funding that originally took place during the 2009 recession.
READER FORUM: Dec. 8, 2013
• Diving in to pool project
• A timely review of food basics
• Name-calling shows sad state of our politics
• Republicans their own worst enemy
• Full attack on common sense
EDITORIAL: Refusing to accept injustice, Mandela made world a better place
Injustice seldom ceases easily. Humans rationalize entrenched systems of persecution. Oppressed people or ideas get painted as a danger to the peaceful social order — the status quo. Cast in that image, inequality appears acceptable, even necessary, to the masses.
Time for a tour?
There’s an essay-type question that shows up on history exams, college applications, “Saturday Night Live” skits and quite possibly requests for platinum credit cards.
GUEST EDITORIAL: Congress now free from the threat of too much work
The headline on the Congress-watching newspaper Politico said it all: “Done.”
RONN MOTT: A friend celebrates his 90th
I went to Charlie Fox’s 90th birthday party Sunday last. He was standing greeting people as they came in the door. I never saw him sit down even one time. He looked more like a man celebrating his 60th rather than his 90th.
Editorial: Bring on the ‘Miracle’
For five miraculous years, Terre Haute’s Christmas festival on a Friday night in early December has grown and prospered.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 6, 2013
RONN MOTT: Cigars
Leaving Baesler’s Market the other day, making my round of errands, I started to re-light my cigar. It was left over from the day before and I did not place it in the humidor. It had gotten too dry, so I threw it into my garbage sack asking myself the question, “Why do I do this?” Well, I do it because I enjoy it.
TRIBUNE-STAR EDITORIAL: Changing attitudes demand GOP action
From all indications, the Republican Party’s legislative leadership will punt away in its next session the opportunity to make a good decision on behalf of all Hoosiers about placing a same-sex marriage ban in the state’s constitution.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 5, 2013
• Anarchy is in the ‘tea’ leaves
Editorial: Help us spread holiday cheer
The kind and generous people of the Wabash Valley are called upon often to help those less fortunate. We are proud to live an area where that call never goes unanswered.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 4, 2013
RONN MOTT: Cats, Inc.
I suppose we should give her a cake and a candle, but she would be happier with a handful of “treats” you can find wherever you shop for groceries. I’m talking about the two-year anniversary of the first cat we adopted. If we had known there were going to be more, her name probably would have been different. She was Orange Crush, a small, bedraggled, starving, Golden Tabby female that wandered into our yard a little after Thanksgiving. She had been badly maltreated.
MS. TAKES: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight
I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of. Our friend, Bill, stopped by our table to offer holiday felicitations and the conversation turned, as it often does this time of year, to Christmas.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 3, 2013
• Prestige chosen over practicality
• Tea partiers love country, freedom
• Same old clowns
LIZ CIANCONE: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight
I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 3, 2013
Prestige chosen over practicality
Tea partiers love country, freedom
Same old clowns
EDITORIAL: For NESC, transparency best option
The five-member board of the Northeast School Corp. of Sullivan County is in the midst of tough times as it faces a difficult decision on the future of its schools, including Union High School in Dugger.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 2, 2013
‘Ask not …’: Living by the words we speak
MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer
Bobby Leonard symbolized the feisty competitive flair of the old ABA.
EDITORIAL: Preserving, improving our parks
Few amenities more greatly affect the quality of life in Terre Haute than its public parks.
FLASHPOINT: Getting right with history
I am ornery enough to never much worry about whether I am on the “right” side of history.
- More Opinion Headlines
- Noteworthy in the news: Another landmark for Pat Rady