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Congress Needs More Conviction, Not Bipartisanship

by Joshua Alvarez, published
2013 is winding down and, as is customary, journalists around the country are filing stories looking back on the year. Per usual, the consensus-manufacturing political media machine in D.C. is running full steam, churning out the same story: the 113th Congress is the worst Congress ever because it is the “least productive” Congress ever.

It’s actually an old schtick, at least relative to the manic nature of the 24-hour breaking apocalyptic disaster news cycle. “14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever,” wrote Ezra Klein last year and “Worst. Congress. Ever.” wrote Chris Cillizza this year, both for the local rag. Even Jon Stewart toed the party line and declared the 113th the worst Congress ever because of how few laws were passed.

The consensus diagnosis for why Congress is so unproductive is because of “lack of compromise,” “no bipartisanship,” “polarization,” and “a sharp decline in the regular order” of doing things.

This is perhaps the worst Congress ever, but not nearly for any of the reasons listed by the well-fed opinionators of insider Washington. It is the worst Congress because it is probably the least representative Congress ever–and that is largely due to the wholly bipartisan activity of gerrymandering.

Alas, this type of corrupt collusion is the true nature of the happy bipartisanship our brave status-quo-molders in the opinion pages yearn for. So strong is their thirst for a one-party state (that is, a single party with two names) that they can barely hide it in their disdain for this “toxically polarized” Congress.

It was bipartisan horse trading that created, among other spectacles of American wisdom, Jim Crow Laws, Japanese internment camps, the Vietnam War, and, contemporarily, the Patriot Act.

Still, our steadfast commentators persistently use “partisan” pejoratively and their thirst for insipid centrist bipartisanship is perpetually unquenched. They worship huckster opinion polls and mock politics of conviction and principles. They then urge the politicians they cover to do the same.

Consensus is the enemy of democracy because it is the pillow that smothers actual debate. It is the scalpel that lobotomizes political discourse into slogans like “unity” and “compromise” and “reaching across the aisle,” which are little more than euphemisms for greasy, unprincipled horse-trading.

That last line would likely send arms flying up in exasperation at most major news publications. Haven’t we seen enough of conviction politics with movements like the tea party? Indeed, many views within the tea party are archaically reactionary. However, how did the tea party come about in the first place? Why do so many Americans feel that their government is no longer theirs, a sentiment shared on the “Left” and in the short-lived Occupy movement?

Tea partiers are people with real grievances: stagnant wages and salaries, rising living costs, constant military deployments and re-deployments of loved ones, and the exchange of billions of taxpayer dollars between the government and large banks and corporations. At least part of the answer for why the tea party came into being is bipartisan politics.

The tea party is waging a long overdue war to redefine (or reestablish) what it means to be an American conservative. What they’ve seen since at least the George W. Bush administration is Republicans selling them one thing (limited government, fiscal responsibility, and economic prosperity through free markets) and delivering something else (government overreach, enormous deficits, and economic prosperity for only the already-rich and the well-connected). They are rightly fed up with politicians dressing themselves in “conservative principles” and shedding them as soon as it becomes convenient or some pollster tells them to.

Bipartisanship, and its helpers in the media, created a centrist consensus that eviscerated the actual “Left” and “Right” from political discourse. Tea partiers perceived that there were no, or very few, politicians representing the ideas of conservatism. The GOP seemed mighty similar to the Democrats.

Members of the tea party want conviction, not Clinton-esque hand-greasing and backslapping. They want a clear cut distinction between the parties. The rest of America, particularly on the “Left,” should want the same, too.

What America needs is to re-imagine its political culture. For all the rugged and maverick imagery associated with America, its politics are sterile and sickeningly regal. The pomp and circumstance surrounding national politics would make even modern royalty blush.

Politicians should not be respected just by virtue of the office they hold. Politicians should not be celebrity technocrats to whom we grovel and “respect,” but rather crusading ideologues that do battle, that have a life of the mind, that represent real, polar alternatives.

No politician, even the president, should be allowed to give a speech uncontested. There should be lots of Joe Wilsons screaming, “You lie!” during the next State of the Union, just as there should have been dozens of jeers during George W. Bush’s.  Instead, staying passively-seated during the State of the Union passes for “dissent.”

Politics should move on conviction, not toadying compromise.

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