Two icons of civility

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), left, and former Vice President Joe Biden. Matt Rourke,AP.

by Rob Howard
Political Columnist

Here we are. A year into the Trump administration and complete Republican control of our government. I do not see much change in the way things are. Political speech seems to be more coarse.

An attack on members of their party and Republicans circle the wagons. Democrats continue to feed on their own.

In Congress, it used to be obvious that while the two parties didn’t always agree on which way the country should move, the members respected each other and could work together.

As an example, when Social Security passed in 1935, the vote was bipartisan. Yes, the Dems controlled the Congress; but it passed the House 372-33 with 81 Republicans supporting it and the Senate 77-6, with 16 Republicans supporting.

The passage of Medicare in 1965 was similarly lopsided, but with a lot of Republicans supporting it.

Today is so completely different, and it repels me. It isn’t clear when we moved from disagreeing with each other on policy to seeing one side at war with the other.

In 2003, with the House narrowly divided, the Medicare Prescription Drug Act passed 216-215. It doesn’t get any closer. It was a Republican bill pursued by GOP President George W. Bush. But it wouldn’t have passed without the votes of nine Democrats.

By 2010 it was no holds barred. The Democrats controlled both houses and the Affordable Care Act passed by the barest possible margin. At least the Democrats held hearings and worked on the bill for a year. But the idea that you had to get something done only with your own party’s votes had taken hold.

The difference was perhaps because Barack Obama was elected president. For whatever reason (my opinion is it was mainly racism), the GOP, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, vowed to ensure that Obama would be a one-term president. That didn’t work out so well for them, but the barricades were built at that point. Tearing them down isn’t going to be easy.

It’s not that both parties lack people of conscience. In the GOP, Sen. John McCain stands out. It’s been years since I agreed with just about anything McCain wanted, but I still respect him. One of his shining moments was during the 2008 campaign when he could have resorted to demagoguery but didn’t.

When an audience member at one of his rallies took the microphone and said that Senator Obama was an Arab, McCain took the mic and said, “No ma’am. No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man…that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

On the Democratic side, we have Joe Biden, who had decided not to run for the Democratic nomination in 2016. Biden said, “I believe we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart. I think we can. It’s mean-spirited. It’s petty. And it’s gone on for much too long.… I don’t think we should look at Republicans as our enemy. They are our opposition. They’re not our enemies. And for the sake of the country we have to work together.”

Both men have strong opinions and fight for their principles. But both take a very different approach to working with the other party. And there may be other senators and congress members who are the same way.

I’m hoping, in this election year, that we can find, support and elect more people cut from the mold of Joe Biden and John McCain. Perhaps then we can start moving toward an era when our leaders put our country first and their party second. There have to be people like that out there. If not, I can’t conceive that our democracy will continue for long.

Copyright The Gayly – January 2, 2018 @ 6:50 a.m. CST.