The Accord Discord
I watch with a bit of bemusement, as well as annoyance at all the hand-wringing stories about discord on the trade bill between President Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. It's not that I'm bothered that there's disagreement on either side, but rather what's bemusing is the concern that this inter-party disagreement is a problem. While there are certainly huge strengths when there is full agreement within a party, I've always thought that when Senators & Representatives criticize their own party's president -- and vice-versa -- that's A Good Thing.
The branches of government are supposed to be separate. We're taught from grade school that it was the point of the Constitution to create checks and balances. Regardless of my own feelings on the trade accord, I think the country is better off that it is happening now with the Democratic Party, because healthy debate is, in fact, healthy. Indeed, I think the country is always better off when it happens, whatever the party. I think the country would have been significantly better off if the GOP had ever had the fortitude to "dare" do it under George W. Bush. Imagine if there had been a debate in Congress over the Iraq War where some Republicans actually expressed then what some said long after the fact -- that mistakes not just "were" made, but are being made. That it wasn't just some Democrats raising the contrary view -- and being painted as "traitors" on occasion for it. Imagine if there was a debate in Congress as the economy was headed towards crashing, and it wasn't just Democrats saying that "trickle down economics" didn't work under Reagan and isn't working now, and that removing protective controls over Wall Street put in after the Great Depression was a very bad idea that risked the same problems, but some Republicans did, too.
I'm all for Senators and Congressmen criticizing their own party's leader when they believe he is wrong. And for the President criticizing those from his party in Congress when he believes they are pandering to the public for votes back home, or simply wrong. Democrats haven't done this enough in recent years, but they do it -- and have always done it a whole lot more than Republicans. The great humorist Will Rogers once famously quipped as far back as in the 1930s, "I'm not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat." Democrats has always, long been a party of arguing amongst themselves, and sometimes eating their young. The party's 1968 presidential convention in Chicago was a near-free for all. On the other hand, Republicans have long lived by Ronald Reagan's famous "11th Commandment" -- Thou shalt not criticize another Republican.
Part of this is because there are liberal, moderate and conservative Democrats. But Republicans, most especially today, are almost exclusively conservative. They've always been generally moderate to conservative, though once upon a time there have been more moderate-to-liberal Republicans. Sen. Jaccob Javits of New York and Sen. Lowell Weicker of Connecticut were liberal, as was New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. President Eisenhower was generally moderate, so was then-Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine. President Theodore Roosevelt was liberal and fought corporations. For that matter, the Father of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln probably wouldn't recognize his party any more -- having gone to war with the South and fighting for the rights of black people. (What a concept.)
Many Democrats were not only critical, but scathing of their own party's president during the Vietnam War. Senators Frank Church, William Fulbright, Albert Gore, and George McGovern among others were often vociferous in their criticism, indeed at times outrage. Senator Eugene McCarthy went so far as to challenge Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic Party nomination as president, ultimately helping in part to lead towards Mr. Johnson.dropping out of the race.
On the other hand, during the Iraq War, which lasted longer than even Vietnam and cost over two trillion dollars and 4,500 American lives -- and was based on a lie -- where were any Republican voices in Congress that even suggested questioning whether this was maybe, possibly not a great idea? Might not a few dissenting voices within the party been good for the country? At the very least, it certainly would have been good for the GOP, since it led to Mr. Bush leaving office with a 22% approval rating and the election of Barack Obama as President.
And so now there is disagreement between President Obama and some Democrats in the Senate, led by Elizabeth Warren on the trade accord. Good. There should be. There should be debate, even within the party. That's how you figure out what's good and what needs fixing.
And rather than the press and public thinking this is problematic when it happens within a party, they should instead rejoice at it.
It's what the branches of government are supposed to do. We learned it in the third grade.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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