Saturday’s runoff election for the 3rd Congressional District seat was arguably a referendum for Southwest Louisiana, and by dispatching Tea Party puppet Jeff Landry to the dust bin of ideological purity and choosing — by a shout-out-loud 61-39 percent margin — the more mainstream Charles Boustany, voters sent a message: we’d like to see Congress get things done.
In the backdrop of Saturday’s election is of course the so-called fiscal cliff, which isn’t a cliff at all but rather a precipitous shrinking of the national debt through automatic tax hikes and spending reductions (don’t tell that to Bobby Jindal), requiring Congress and the White House to get together and cut some deals. To compromise.
|Former U.S. Rep. Mickey Edwards|
Maybe we’re finally stepping away from the precipice of intractability, obfuscation and political impedance that marked this intemperate boil on the body politic known as the Tea Party movement. Maybe not. But former Oklahoma Congressman Mickey Edwards, who will speak in Lafayette on Dec. 19 as part of the Independent Lecture Series, believes he has some fixes for what ails us politically, namely restoring cooperation and compromise to policy making in our messy republic.
“If you fight for everything you end up getting nothing, and that’s not an advantage,” says Edwards, now a member of the D.C. nonprofit Aspen Institute. “When Richard Mourdock beat Richard Lugar [in the Indiana Republican Senate primary], he kept saying, ‘I will never compromise,’ and all I could think of was thank God he wasn’t at the Constitutional Convention, because there wouldn’t be a United States. I think it’s essential. I’m not saying you shouldn’t stand for principle. I am saying there is a time to say, ‘OK, I’ll get my half a loaf today and I’ll try to get a few more slices next time.’”
Mourdock, who shanghaied his U.S. Senate candidacy with stupid and widely publicized comments about babies born out of rape representing the will of God, was a product of the closed party primary, which, according to Edwards, produces the most ideologically extreme candidates. Think Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada — crackpots who beat mainline opponents thanks to closed party primaries that draw, in the case of GOP primaries, the most conservative voters.
Louisiana flirted with closed primaries for a few years, the result of which produced Jeff Landry. Ending the closed party primary nationwide is one of several fixes to American politics Edwards proposes in his new book, The Parties Vs. the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans (Yale University Press).
“People have learned to use the party primary system in order to make sure that they nominate and put on the ballot only those people who are the most pure and the least willing to compromise,” he says.
Look no further than the 2010 midterm elections that swept into office Landry and other Tea Party-minded politicians, many with no prior political experience and few with any inclination to compromise. The result was the most radically conservative House of Representatives certainly since the Gingrich years of the mid 1990s.
“In Washington everything revolves around party versus party,” Edwards adds. “People out there in the country aren’t thinking about party versus party; they’re thinking about getting things done.”
Edwards has been preaching the gospel of compromise for years in newspaper editorials and books. Among his other proposed fixes for the current state of disunion in Washington are placing congressional redistricting in the hands of nonpartisan panels rather than allowing the party that controls a state’s legislature to draw lines that favor the party; hire a nonpartisan speaker of the House; and preventing party leaders from choosing who sits on committees. Common sense fixes, in other words — fixes that status quo Washington is unlikely to embrace.
“I understand that we are a republic and not a pure democracy — we have limited government with decentralized powers,” says Edwards, a Republican who represented Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District from 1977 to 1993. “But we are a democracy in the sense that we get to choose the people who are going to make those decisions in the government.
“All of my proposals are designed to make sure that within that piece of it, as long as it’s within the Constitution, that who the people want is who is going to be governing — not little tiny subsets of the population, but the whole population.”