Tom Foley was a great congressman, the man who gave Spokane its 15 Minutes of Fame. But, frankly, he wasn’t much interested in political organization. He left not a trace.
As a result, over the past 18 years, Democrats have barely managed to compete for his old seat.
Roll the videotape: Tom Keefe tries to beat George Nethercutt by saying little, instead presenting himself in TV commercials as just a friendly guy who smiles when he walks into the Milk Bottle. Don Barbieri? I realized he was a goner the day I drove our high-school-age son down to look at Whitman and didn’t see a single Barbieri sign south of Hatch Road. Our state’s present Lands Commissioner, Peter Goldmark? Rancher, inventor and U.C. Berkeley Ph.D., surely a serious challenger — but not when he narrowly focuses his campaign on improving veterans’ benefits and the importance of canola oil.
So here we go again. Election 2012. Incumbent Cathy McMorris Rodgers has a leadership position in our Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which has the lowest job approval rating on record. She and her colleagues are either (a) home raising money or (b) passing bills that would make hard times even worse for her constituents.
McMorris Rodgers’ ratings with senior-citizen groups are barely above ground level. Last week she voted for passage of the Ryan budget, which even the right-leaning U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops called amoral. This is a budget that is great for the wealthy on Wall Street but bad for the 5th District, which is quite a poor district, in case she hasn’t noticed. Cutting food stamps? Medicaid? Holding student-loan interest rates hostage to a raid on health care while refusing to look at the revenue side of the picture? And then adding more dollars to Defense? And let’s not forget that she and her party took the country to the brink of default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. (They raised it seven times when George W. Bush was president, without objection.)
In a recent Washington Post article, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote: “We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional.” They went on to fix the blame: “In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.” They called the party “ideologically extreme,” “scornful of compromise” and “dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
They cite former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who called his own party “irresponsible.” And the beat goes on. Last week, Republicans in Indiana voted out long-time Senator Richard Lugar, one of the most respected Senators on either side of the aisle. Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, fed up with Republican-led hyperpartisan politics, is also calling it quits. It all started the night of the 2009 inauguration. The Republican leadership met and determined to obstruct everything the president and his administration might propose — public interest be damned. First they engaged in misdirection. They called him a “socialist,” then a “Muslim,” and let’s not forget the months spent stirring up the mindless “birthers.”
They opposed out of hand the stimulus package, even though their supply-side economics obviously hadn’t worked. They denounced the president for challenging Wall Street, then denounced him for bailing out Wall Street. They denounced him for bailing out the automobile industry and now try to take credit for his success. They denounced him for stating during the campaign that he would go into Pakistan after bin Laden, then denounced him for reminding them that he did exactly what he said he would do. They asserted that America had no need for comprehensive health care reform — after all, since America is an “exceptional” country, it follows that we must have the “best health care system in the world.” Setting aside that the bill Barack Obama signed mirrors what their very own presidential candidate-in-waiting got passed as governor of Massachusetts, we also note that Richard Nixon, a half-century ago, saw the same need as did Romney and Obama and proposed an even more ambitious reform.
It’s time for Democrats to take off the gloves and act like a serious loyal opposition. Mc- Morris Rodgers should be made to answer for her party’s dismal record. And who knows? Maybe along the way, somewhere out there, they could find another Tom Foley or Lisa Brown.