Frustration: There is no question that a major factor in my decision to not seek re-election this year is my frustration with the conditions in Washington, which increasingly make it exceedingly difficult to accomplish anything of note.
I am not the first person to make this observation. Some have attributed this condition to the fact that few legislators live in Washington any longer since the advent of frequent air travel and, therefore, personal relationships are harder to form. Others have suggested that redistricting in Congress, which makes more “safe” seats in each party, reduces the impetus for compromise. Such structural factors probably have some impact. But, I don’t think they are the primary causes. The primary causes in my estimation are more temporary. That is the good news. However, they are also pretty deep-rooted. That is the not-so-good-news.
I believe there are two primary, though temporary problems. The first will likely not surprise you. It is President Obama. I’m not going to beat this point into the ground because Obama’s approval rating of around 40% indicates that most Americans understand that he is doing a terrible job. Suffice it to say that he is an extreme leftist ideologue who has no concept of compromise and whose administration demonstrates incompetence even in the rare instances where I agree with them. His foreign policy is without compass and has resulted in a weak disaster with consequences that will be felt worldwide for years after Obama, blessedly, has left office. He has burned the good people who served in the administration early in his presidency by forcing them to defend the indefensible and to say things they knew to be untrue on so many occasions. The people coming in now are largely political hacks who have no compunction against uttering the vacuous drivel that the White House issues them. I have tried to work with this administration over the last 6 years. Truly, I have. But, it has always ended in utter disappointment and impasse for reasons I have just articulated.
But…..most of you already know that.
However, my second reason for why things are not getting done might surprise you. It is because of the people in my own party that may be defined as “absolutists”.
Readers of this missive know I am conservative. Very conservative. The people in Washington who measure such things have ranked me as high as the second most conservative Member out of the 537 elected officials in DC. I will put my conservative credentials and beliefs up against anyone.
But, we live in a democracy. That means that no one gets their own way. Not even the president. Just ask anyone who has ever held that office. I want to move conservative ideals forward. To do so, however, I invariably must get the votes of Republicans who are not so conservative and some Democrats. Washington is built that way. Even if one party controls the House, the Senate and the White House, unless they have 60 votes in the Senate, they need someone of the other party to vote with them to make policy. In 2009 and 2010, Obama had such a majority. He passed Obamacare without a single vote from the opposition party. Most everyone now understands why that that was such a tremendous mistake. No major entitlement policy has ever been passed on a partisan basis because it simply cannot be sustained that way. Obamacare will fail and it should fail.
However, we Republicans are no better than Obama if we think we can force things through without any “buy-in” from the other side of the aisle or from the moderates in our own party.
The “absolutists” insist on unyielding and uncompromising purity to conservative principles and ideals. In a fantasy world where no others exist, I agree with them. I want the same things that they do. But, the real world doesn’t work that way. In a discussion recently with one of the “absolutists”, it was suggested to me that governing was like running your own business and that those in charge should get to do whatever they want. This person had clearly never run their own business. I have. You are always limited by the talents and needs of your employees and by the wants of your customers. You must balance all of that to create something that works for everyone, or it will work for no one. Two of the phrases I often repeat in politics are that we have to deal with the world as it is, not the world as we would like it to be. And, that my ideology guides my thinking, but it does not replace my thinking.
I have been as equally frustrated by the “absolutists” as I have been by the White House. In assessing my own strengths and weaknesses, I believe that perhaps one of the greatest talents that the good Lord bestowed on me was the ability to “smell” a deal and to drive parties to make that agreement. Whether that “deal” is the sale of a car, or a business merger, or moving a piece of legislation, making that happen is something I can do and like to do. Unfortunately, this “talent” is of no value in today’s Washington. I “smell” deals all over the Capitol on all kinds of issues. But, you can’t get them done either because of the incompetence or intransigence of the Obama Administration, or because of Republican “absolutists” who are content to swing for the fence and get a strike-out when a single or ground-rule double is there for the taking. Of course, there are not just Republican “absolutists”. There are plenty of Democrat “progressives” who want it all their way or nothing at all. But, currently, these Democrats are not necessary to make substantive things happen in the House.
Strangely, in my opinion, the “absolutists” in my party are the greatest danger to the conservative cause. They value purity over accomplishment. Too often they cling to ideological devotion over practicality and opt for vainglorious martyrdom over modest success and quiet victories. Tragically, in pursuing absolutism in a divided country, they will end up severely damaging the very cause for which they serve.
This too shall pass. Obama will thankfully no longer be president on January 20th, 2017. And, the “absolutists” will eventually be overwhelmed by conservatives and moderates who want to get something done. This will happen after my term of service has passed. However, the torch was ably carried before I served. It will be ably carried by others afterwards.
But, the principles and causes for which I have stood may not find their resolution in Washington. If not DC, then where you ask? More about that, next week.
By the way, if you want to stay in contact with me after I leave office and receive my post-congressional observations, send me an email HERE. If you have already done so, you do not need to send me an email again.