Saturday January 5, 2013

Lame ducks?

Editor of the Reformer:

The results of this year’s election have raised many questions -- and, inevitably, hypotheses -- about the prospects for the 113th Congress. While it is too early yet to answer these questions, the lame duck Congress has surprised the public -- mostly pleasantly. Congress’ performance in recent years put a simple question in voter’s minds this November: "Why is Congress so dysfunctional?" While the answers are complex, they can be traced to the partisan confrontation of late.

America’s two-party system is dependent on the participation of both the majority and minority parties. Such partisanship is essential, but so is bipartisanship -- and lately representatives and senators have not forgotten but intentionally ignored this fact. The fundamental idea behind the majority-minority structure is that, through democratic elections, the most popular party prevails and consequently wins certain privileges; the minority party, then, accepts loss but not defeat, working diligently to reaffirm their appeal to the electorate through earnest problem-solving. In essence, this system is designed to remind congressmen and -women of their duties. Yet increasingly this traditional structure has been plagued by sore losers and their underhanded tactics.

In "It’s Even Worse Than It Looks," T. E. Mann and N. J. Ornstein attribute this trend to "parliamentary-style maneuvering," or a multi-party approach without the attitudes and structures of a multi-party system. This "ideologically polarized, internally unified, vehemently oppositional, and politically strategic" Congress, they say, is incompatible with America’s democratic values. A good negotiator demonstrates humility, respect, sensibility, and sensitivity with the ultimate goal of compromise and consensus; today’s notorious "negotiators" employ a "cynical exploitation" of procedure to score political points and embarrass their opponents.

Originally designed for rare use, filibusters and holds have, according to Mann and Ornstein, "transformed the Senate." What was designed to function as a check and balance on legislative power has, in its overuse, become a structural impediment to any legislative power. Presidential nominations and appointments have also increasingly floundered, thanks largely to the obstructionism of minority-party members. The president was once entrusted with the job of picking suitable nominees, and disputes over their qualifications were the exception rather than the rule.

This deficiency in efficiency was the reality that Americans were faced with at the polls. Their senators and representatives were faced with that same reality in the election results. Those of them who exploited the democratic nature of their position were generally subject to one of the most enduring and compelling checks and balances in the nation: the scrutiny of dissatisfied constituents. It has become clear from the "Fiscal Cliff" discussions that the election forced crucial re-evaluation of obligations and loyalties on the part of Congress. These revelations have thawed much of the polarization so dominant in the election season, reminding Congress that they have just as much an obligation to be opinionated as they do to be cooperative. If this sentiment continues, the American public will be asking, "How was Congress ever so dysfunctional?"

Hannah Reichel,

BUHS Senior, Jan. 2

Differing opinions

Editor of the Reformer:

Readers such as I must appreciate your policy of posting varied opinions such as this.

I differ from Richard Davis’s statement about the need for older humans to take it easy because of age being responsible for joint cartilage wearing out. As a veterinarian that is not the case with companion animals, but may be the case with older humans that I will witness as I age. So far that is not the case as I pound the pavement daily on my 5k run. I’m 94 going on 95.

Also Carlyn Maddon may, in her "disfunction of Congress" letter (Jan. 2), be overlooking the cause of the dysfunction and there’s the rub. With the members of Congress being bought and paid for by for profit corporations the filibuster is used to stall any legislation a corporation wants to block. We must address the cause not the symptom. The corporations are interested in profits and not you and me. If we offer every member of Congress to agree with the Vermont Pledge, to be endorsed by us voters, you and I could change the loyalty of our members of Congress.

Six months from now the majority of members of Congress accepting this pledge: Neither I nor my staff will have any conflict of interest with a for profit corporation or their representatives.

Editor and readers, please tell me why that will not work.

George Whitney,

Brattleboro, Jan. 2

Who you calling kid?

Editor of the Reformer:

I was so pleased to read the lovely letter Susan Avery wrote (Dec. 7). I’m so glad to see I’m not the only one who still has "kids" in her old age.

When one of my daughters got married her new husband was real disgusted to hear me say "you kids." I told him they would be kids as long as I’m alive. When I die they can become adults. I hope they’ll be kids for a few more years!

(P.S. I’m sending him her letter.)

Elaine Petrie,

Brattleboro, Dec. 7

Wait ... where?

Editor of the Reformer:

Following a brief move to Newfane for the "Blue Year’s Eve" event Monday night (see Thursday’s Calendar), I understand that Maple Valley Ski Area will be relocated back to Dummerston. I’m thrilled to see an event happening at the ski lodge and hope that once it’s back in Dummerston we’ll see more events held there. It’s too good a space to sit empty.

Alex Wilson

Dummerston, Dec. 28