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 email@example.com.
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.
- Opinion Columns
THOMAS L. STEIGER: Individualist culture at root of income gap attitudes
Why don’t Americans think that growing income inequality (as well as the growing gaping disparity in wealth) is a very big problem for us?
RONN MOTT: Snow-clad Collett
Like many of you, I woke up this morning to a world that mirrors the song, “It’s a Marshmallow World.” The world was not only white it was a whipped cream coconut cake, or taffeta wedding dress white. Early on, looking out on the Park, it said, “Look at me, don’t I look good in my white dress of snow?” And, I said, “Boy, do you ever!”
RONN MOTT: Media merry-go-round
One day David Wire was there doing his job as Chief Meteorologist at WTHI-TV, then one day shortly after, he was gone.
LIZ CIANCONE: Nothing like the silence of a winter snowfall
I’m not a big fan of cold and snow, but …
Raising the bar
Around coffeeshops, kitchen tables and office watercoolers, Hoosiers have cussed and discussed the federal health care law.
RONN MOTT: Thanks to those who go ‘extra’ mile
Many an old movie will show you a newsboy … he’s standing on a corner or in the middle of a block yelling, “Extra, extra, read all about it!”
RONN MOTT: Christmas 2013
Sitting on the front porch in my favorite chair, I began to count the buds and flowers on the Christmas cactus that is on the porch all year. The legend is it will bloom for Christmas and true to the legend this cactus has bloomed consistently around the Christmas season. I counted 40 buds and flowers and I stopped when I reached 40 with more left on the plant. I guess without hesitation that means Christmas is for sure about to arrive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MARK BENNETT: Walk of Fame inductee would stand tall in any era
Unlike most of us, Amory Kinney didn’t let the wall around his comfort zone grow taller as time passed.
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.
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.
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.
RONN MOTT: Collett Park Christmas Walk always a special event
Since I live right across the street from Collett Park, I enjoy very much this particular neighborhood. And since I have walked around it a few times, I’m familiar with the 0.8 of a mile it takes to walk around the park. The Christmas Walk is a walk around the neighborhood. There were approximately 15 homes involved and open to the public this year
RONN MOTT: Rule Changes
Watching the beginning of a new basketball season reminds me of my attempt to play basketball in high school. On the B-team, at a township high school my freshman and sophomore years, I fouled out of a great many basketball games.
RONN MOTT: A Hornet’s Nest
I seem to have kicked over a hornet’s nest in my criticism of the American health care system.
The basic fact of the matter is this: We do not have, in America, the highest-rated health care system. We are not in the top 10, nor top 20, but somewhere in the middle 30s. Yet we pay more for our health care than any other nation in the world.
LIZ CIANCONE: Mourning a death is a personal exercise
One does not properly “celebrate” an assassination, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be reminded that there are a lot of nuts out there. Coverage this past week of the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination still has the power to disturb, but all the theories won’t undo the facts.
MARK BENNETT: Letter from coach’s young daughter put pro sports, Christmas in perspective
Most of us sympathize with people forced to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
That list is growing, now that Black Friday has morphed into Black Thursday, causing retail employees to join doctors, nurses, hospital staffers, police, firefighters, emergency responders, military members, convenience store clerks, road crews and media to spend holidays at work. Ideally, we’ll feel gratitude when we require their services on those special days. Too often, their sacrificed time gets taken for granted.
Terry Leonard wanted the executives to remember her dad, and their family, at Christmastime.
And, amazingly, they listened.
THOMAS L. STEIGER: Cultural tendencies are what unite and divide us
For the last 10 days a story has been circulating on the Internet adapted from the original source in Tufts Magazine.
Ronn Mott: Memories of long ago Thanksgivings
Like many youngsters growing up in this part of Indiana, the holidays were always something full of good times and, of course, going to Grandma’s house.
RONN MOTT: I remember
Someone said the other day everyone remembers where they were the day John Kennedy was shot. I certainly do.
RONN MOTT: Too Much
I’ve been very fortunate, so far, in my lifetime. I’ve not been hit with any major disease that could, ultimately, kill me. I’ve only been under the knife twice and neither operation was life threatening … tonsils and a kidney stone too large to extract in a normal way.
LIZ CIANCONE: The greatest invention ever? Frozen orange juice
We were talking the other day and someone posed the question: “What do you think has been the greatest invention of all time?”
Larry’s Lessons: On a beautiful fall day at Hulman Center
I attended the unveiling of the Larry Bird statue on Saturday, Nov. 9, and found the proceedings to be wonderful.
RONN MOTT: 95th
Nov. 7, 1918, was a few days before the war to end all wars actually ended. It was 95 years ago. The last veteran who fought in that war has passed away. The growth America took after that war also has passed away and so did Prohibition, ending the sale of alcoholic drinks and giving birth to what became known as “organized crime.”
RONN MOTT: The Bully
The mess the Miami Dolphins find themselves in is a simple case of bullying. The man who would like to be rather “incognito,” Richie Incognito, is not. The entire world knows about him now and his bullying may have been sanctioned by his Miami Dolphins’ football team.
LIZ CIANCONE: Even mild forecast can give you the shivers
The local weather report the other evening included a bit of folklore. Our weather guru said that the story is that if snakes have not crawled off to winter quarters by late October, we were in for a mild winter.
- More Opinion Columns Headlines
- THOMAS L. STEIGER: Individualist culture at root of income gap attitudes