Last week, there was considerable partisan fighting in Congress. Driven on by partisan ideologues within its numbers, one party vowed to hold up a key bill until other legislative items were addressed. A senator, who spent months crafting the bipartisan language of this bill, denounced it to the applause of his colleagues. While the party in support of the bill called for their opponents to act in the best interest of the nation, the vote failed on the Senate floor.
You would be forgiven for thinking that it was the Republican Party in opposition to this bill, but in actuality it was the Democrats, led by Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who orchestrated the party revolt. It was Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) who denounced his own bill, while House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called for the Democrats to act in the best interest of the nation.
The bill was the fast tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an enormous trade deal supported by both President Barack Obama and many Republicans. Although many opponents to the bill raised legitimate concerns about TPP and its fast-tracking, those watching from the sideline couldn’t help but see a spark of vengeance in the Democrats’ actions.
“The breakdown that occurred Tuesday underscored the failure of the White House to keep a lid on mounting tensions within its own party," Politico reporter Manu Raju writes. "It highlighted the White House’s reluctance to stand behind a Senate Democratic leadership team eager to embrace hardball tactics to stymie the GOP agenda.”The breakdown highlighted a narrative in the Democratic Party that for years has been the narrative of the Republican Party: internal divisions leading to feuding within the party, and an all-or-nothing approach intended to damage opponents for political reasons.
The liberal blog, The Daily Kos, said it even more starkly:
“[I]t’s the prerogative of the minority to hold things up and get in the way, as Republicans well know, that having been their specialty when in the minority.”
Views of the TPP and its fast-tracking (TPA) are complex, with neither side holding a majority in polling. But when it comes to addressing the bill in the Senate -- doing the real work of governance -- opponents of the bill should be able to ground their opposition in an argument that doesn’t seem so petulant.
That’s because motive is important in politics. Compromise is founded on mutual trust, and partisan motivations clearly do not engender trust.
This event illustrates the remarkable mental gymnastics both sides are able to perform as they transition from majority to minority. This tit-for-tat politics, the ability of both parties to criticize the partisan, obstructive tactics of their opponent, and then immediately adopt those tactics when they become the minority, is nothing new. For the past several decades, both parties have been flipping back and forth on the so called “nuclear option,” to eliminate the filibuster. They drag out the same hackneyed argument whenever it suits their purposes, only to deride it when it is turned against them.
This isn’t a party thing or a partisan thing, this is a systemic thing. With each transition of power, the minority adopts the same tactics they railed against in the majority, somehow justifying the actions that were wrong in the last session. Again, the Daily Kos:
“Republicans just want Democrats to play by different rules than they themselves play by. As usual.”
Yes, that is right. Ultimately this is a failure of leadership, by both sides. Leadership is done by example, and leaders set the tone for their relationships by treating others as they would be treated themselves. To break the cycle, one side will have to take a risk and step up.
This is a tough thing to sell, like telling the ten-year-old to turn the other cheek when being bullied. But like the ten-year-old who hits back, the maturity level in the Senate is disappointing, while the dearth of leadership is unsurprising.
Both sides simply need to be better and hold themselves to the same standards they hold others. That is a tough thing to sell, but eventually someone is going to have to step up and show some leadership. And since neither party has been willing to do this for the past few decades, Americans deserve an alternative.
Editor's note: This article, written by Andy Smith, originally published on the Centrist Project's website on May 15, 2015. You can learn more about the Centrist Project on its website or follow the organization on Twitter and Facebook.