Saturday, June 1, 2013

Thoughts on the senate debate

"Senators, we hear, must be politicians – and politicians must be concerned only with winning votes, not with statesmanship or courage. Mothers may still want their favorite sons to grow up to be President, but according to a famous Gallup poll of some years ago, they do not want them to become politicians in the process." 
~ Senator John F. Kennedy, "Profiles in Courage"

The two candidates for the U.S. Senate, contending in a special election here in Massachusetts, will face off this week in a head to head debate for the first time. Whichever candidate wins the debate, or even if neither one does, one can only hope the episode wins some much needed attention to the contest. Maybe it's me and the unique and peculiar sampling of media I happen to take in at my house, but the one thing I've noticed about this election is how little notice it's been receiving. And how what attention there's been has been puddle deep, barely splashable.

Pond scum? We should hope for such depth.

Sure one can seek out coverage and always find the pundits on the opinion pages turning familiar soil. The partisans have affected their predictable postures. But what is striking is how precious little engaged discussion about differences of policy or political approach we've managed to hear thus far. We get the cartoons instead. The Democrat will unflinchingly champion the President and his side in the constant struggle that is Washington, D.C., except where maybe it's unpopular. The Republican promises... well, not to champion the President, but as far as the national GOP is concerned, folks like Boehner and Cantor and McConnell —let's just say there's an elephant in the room.

Asses and elephants: I'm thinking that maybe the reason I've seen so little discussion going on about the election is that there are a lot of citizens just plain sick and tired of both creatures and the game of mutual caricature that has become our politics. And maybe there's a clue there for both the candidates about how to win back our attention.

Gabriel Gomez, first let me say that I agree it was downright scummy to post ads with your image right along side that of Osama bin Laden. I'd have lost my temper as well, but please admit, too, that it was equally scummy when the group you were speaking on back when was doing the same to President Obama. The politics of attack ad anti-advocacy gets scummy. Let's get past that and on to the subject of the U.S. Senator you would be. In that regard I would be very interested to hear just exactly how you think you would improve and even reform the GOP Senate Caucus. Don't bother disparaging Democrats. That stuff is old hat from GOP candidates countrywide and Democrats do a good enough job of disparaging or embarrassing themselves most of the time. While you want to run as a Republican somewhat removed from the national party you will become a part of that caucus if you win and we here in Massachusetts want to know how you (and we) could change that caucus for the better. How would you change the dynamic from within your party, across the aisle, and throughout the senate chamber? Speak to that and I will be all ears.

Congressman Markey, I would ask you to answer a very similar set of questions. It might be tempting after more than three decades in the House of Representatives to suggest that your record speaks for itself, that your ideals and inclinations are plain. That might all be true, but this election isn't a referendum on your political personality, however well cultivated that may be. How will you change the U.S. Senate —not as one more rank and file member of your party's caucus, but as a singular voice? Where, why and how would you challenge Democratic leadership —even a Democratic president for the better fate of the country?

That's the ideal of the senate after all... that form of debate.  It's not a body premised on procedures and partisan lockstep —the disciplined herding of coalitions and precounted votes. The senate's premise is principled and openly deliberate debate, asking hard questions even of our own, even of ourselves. Answering in candid earnest. That's what I'll be watching for this week, not the easy answers or push button politicking. There's that something a past U.S. Senator of Massachusetts once profiled as courage, that's what I'll be watching for.
Today the challenge of political courage looms larger than ever before. For our everyday life is becoming so saturated with the tremendous power of mass communications that any unpopular or unorthodox course arouses a storm of protests ... Our political life is becoming so expensive, so mechanized and so dominated by professional politicians and public relations men that the idealist who dreams of independent statesmanship is rudely awakened by the necessities of election and accomplishment... And thus, in the days ahead, only the very courageous will be able to take the hard and unpopular decisions necessary for our survival in the struggle with a powerful enemy...
Maybe our enemy these days isn't as singularly obvious as it was in the 1950's when "Profiles in Courage" was written. Maybe it wasn't even then. But are the challenges we face any less serious today? Any less about survival? Do we require any less courage of our statesmen? of ourselves?

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