Civility vacuum sucking life out of Congress, America

06/01/2013 5:59 PM

06/01/2013 5:59 PM

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver has talked about the problems of Congress before, but from what he described Thursday night the political discord appears to have gotten worse.

“The single most important issue facing the United States is civility,” the former Kansas City mayor said at an All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church forum at the Grand Street Cafe titled “Civil Discourse...Social Change. “It’s a tough environment for relationships.”

What Cleaver told the audience helped explain the political infighting that takes place between Republicans and Democrats and why Congress seems to accomplish very little.

“We did hardly anything of any significance legislatively,” said Cleaver, who compared the session to the “do nothing Congress” of 1948 when Harry Truman was president. The country has no budget, no agriculture bill, no energy policy, sequestration cuts are mostly unchecked and Medicare remains an unresolved concern. “Medicare is a major problem that can be fixed.”

Cleaver said the stagnation is because the focus of lawmakers has changed from addressing the country’s needs to trying to eliminate members of Congress in the other party. They do it with poison pills built into significant legislation.

An example is the farm bill included $20.5 billion in cuts over 10 years in food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Many Democrats couldn’t vote for the bill.

But Republicans then use the “no” vote against the Democrats in the next campaign, particularly in district’s like Cleaver’s, which because of redistricting, includes a lot of rural areas.

“The process now is designed for politics,” said Cleaver, who was first elected to the House in 2004. “To me it’s sinister.”

Another concern is people in Congress can ride elevators together and not talk because they don’t know each other.

“Everybody goes home every Friday,” Cleaver said. “People don’t get to know each other. There is no interaction.”

Money needed for campaigns and the public also are problems. Each feeds the discourse in Congress.

Rep. Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, shouted, “You lie,” during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in 2009. Never had such an interruption happened before. Wilson was “punished,” Cleaver said, with $2 million in donations from the public.

Incendiary, thermonuclear campaigns attract votes and get candidates who use such tactics elected.

“They don’t get to Washington, D.C., and become nice,” Cleaver said. “They’re going to come in nasty because that’s how they got there, and they are going to stay there.

“People are plotting and planning how to make the other side look bad, and it’s getting worse and worse.”

Cleaver said the problem can’t be fixed in Washington. It has to be corrected where voters live.

Corporations and people should withhold campaign donations to candidates who stoop to such tactics. Voters also need to let candidates know such behavior hurts cooperation, Congress and the country.

“As long as voters say it’s OK, then it’s OK,” Cleaver said.

It should never be OK.


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