The Lame Duck Takes Flight

We the people are witnessing the stirrings of one of the truly rare events in nature; our Congress in action. The Senate has taken the extraordinary step of actually acting on a trio of bills in the same month; the food safety package, the START treaty ratification process, and the now infamous Obamadeal with the Republicans. The House, which in fairness is usually quite active, moved on the politically controversial Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal. In view of all this auspicious activity, writing a column on sports this evening seemed frivolous.

But then, Congress is something of a sport for me. Much like a football game, I enjoy watching the battle while trying to anticipate the next move. The next move in politics, incidentally, is rarely as complicated as modern professional football strategy. The only real variables are money, time, and political polling. Please don’t misunderstand, The Rational Middle does not believe in a Congress without principles, far from it. I believe that most politicians, from both parties, genuinely care about their nation and retain their principles throughout their careers. I also believe, however, that politicians must be pragmatic, lest they not be around the next time their principles need defending.

Pragmatism and compromise, by the way, are not the evils that many now believe. Our nation, in its infancy, was defined by the pragmatic approach and willingness to compromise that defined the founders. The Constitution, despite the passion of its builders, stands not as the result of one overarching body of thinking. Rather, the Constitution is a product of meticulous compromise, designed to propagate such accommodation throughout the ages. Those politicians, from both sides of the aisle, who find their principles under attack this week would do well to contemplate the far greater sacrifices endured by the founders, and save their fight for another day.

And both sides of the aisle are indeed tested with this week’s activity. Liberals are angry about the budget-busting tax cut extensions that form the bulk of the nearly $900 billion bill that will soon be signed by the President. House Democrats in particular have some justification for their anger (if not for where they focused that anger); many lost seats because of the stimulus bill that they passed without any Republican votes. That legislation, which was a resounding (if unappreciated) success (see the CBO and Moody’s), is now combined with the current package to deliver a stunning legislative event. With the bill’s signing, President Obama will assume the mantle of the second biggest tax cutter in history, trailing only Saint Ronnie the Gipper (W.’s cuts, depending on who does the math, are right there as well). Almost $1.5 trillion worth of tax cuts, with about one third going to the working class, will be in effect over the next 10 years.

Liberals like myself are deeply concerned with this outcome, not because we enjoy paying taxes or hate rich people, but because we believe in public investment. These moves threaten every aspect of our retirement security programs, and will undoubtedly lead to more pressure on the state budgets that carry the burden of our nation’s educational system. This may be a bitter pill to swallow, but conservatives are left to confront an issue substantially more painful.

The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, adopted clumsily as a compromise by President Clinton in 1993, is on the way out. The policy, which marks the United States as the only industrialized nation in the world to exclude open homosexuals from military service, was placed squarely on the agenda by the President at the beginning of his term. Mr. Obama has spent two years being attacked by everyone on this issue; LGBT activists who feel he should have been more aggressive or used the courts, and conservatives angry that he moved on the issue at all. Regardless of the hoopla, the President’s approach involved the military at all levels, and put the onus on the Congress to make the ultimate decision.

After the military’s finding that a large majority of personnel and their families are unconcerned with the issue, the House moved to put the change on the calendar. Democratic leadership first tried placing it in an appropriations bill, and when that failed, they brought it to the floor on its own. 235 Democrats and 15 Republicans voted for the measure, and the Senate appears to have the votes necessary to get the repeal to the President’s desk. There exists a real sense of anger throughout America that is generated when courts overturn the will of the people, as expressed in referendum and legislation, so the approach of making the change in Congress should be appreciated…but not by everyone.

The strain of losing DADT is already causing some Republicans to chew on their feet, as witnessed by this singular bit of political nonsense:

Implementation of any new policy should begin “when our singular focus is no longer on combat operations or preparing units for combat,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.Associated Press

Perhaps Rep. McKeon would care to explain precisely when the singular focus of our military is not either on “combat operations” or their preparations? Either way, change is difficult, and sometimes we the people accommodate it with greater ease than our partisan representatives.

Democracies aren’t about making everyone happy, they are about everyone striking a balance that allows 300 million people to live together. Conservative groups will be very angry about DADT’s demise. Repealing the policy has clear support within the military, but many who serve will be both angry and concerned. Liberal groups are furious with the compromise (and the President who engineered it), despite the favorable items that went with them. Both sides must listen to the people; some 60% of Americans are happy with the tax compromise, and almost 70% feel that it is time for DADT to ride into the sunset. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, the spectacle of a lame duck Congress in flight is one that shouldn’t be missed. So when you are done browsing the sports sites, take a look at Thomas and catch up on your democracy. I promise you it is only mostly as boring as it sounds.

The Rational Middle is listening…