| Former Congressman Mickey Edwards, R-Okla., speaks Wednesday during the Ind Lecture
Series at the Cajundome Convention Center.
Mickey Edwards, the former eight-term Republican congressman from Oklahoma, likens politics in Washington, D.C., to sports, and it isn’t a flattering analogy. “It’s so dysfunctional that it’s not like a group of Americans sitting together trying to solve our problems; it’s more like the NFL. It’s more like the Saints against the Cowboys,” Edwards told a packed Cajundome Convention Center ballroom Wednesday during an Ind Lecture Series luncheon. For more than a half hour Edwards decried the “us versus them” climate in the Beltway, where Republicans and Democrats agree on virtually nothing and virtually nothing gets done on voters’ behalf.
That’s a theme Edwards has been hammering — in newspaper op-eds, as a frequent guest on television and radio news panels, and in his new book, The Parties Vs. the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.
“Your obligation as a member of the United States Congress is to use your brains, use your experience, gather information so you can make intelligent decisions,” said Edwards, who after leaving Congress in 1993 taught at Harvard and Princeton universities for several years. He’s now a member of the nonprofit Aspen Institute.
His ire over gridlock is directed equally at Democrats and Republicans — “private, power-seeking clubs,” as he would later characterize them during the lecture — and although a card-carrying member of the GOP and a self-professed small-government conservative, he pulled no punches with his own party in one of many references to the U.S. Constitution: “Nowhere in there does it say you should do what your party wants or what your contributors want or what some guy who asks you to sign a pledge wants. I took a pledge. The only pledge I ever took, it was to the Constitution. Anybody who signs a pledge about taxes, about immigration, about abortion... is not fulfilling their obligation to serve the country, and that’s what members [of Congress] do all the time.”
The remedies Edwards prescribes for closing the partisan divide center around mainstreaming Congress by reducing the likelihood of partisan extremists getting elected: by banishing to the dust bin of bad electoral policy the closed party primaries used in most states, which Edwards argues tend to create candidates who represent the political fringes á la Tea Party candidates Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell, who defeated mainstream Republicans more likely to compromise with Democrats; by prohibiting the political party that controls a state legislature from controlling congressional redistricting; and by electing a non-partisan House speaker, among other things.
The former congressman’s urgency was palpable in his closing remarks:
We have got to regain control of our government so that the people who are in Washington making these decisions for us really represent the people. And the best decisions they can make with the power of their brains are about what’s best for America, not what’s best for their team.
The fact that we today operate as team against team is why we cannot come together and find common ground on anything. What price do we pay if we can’t? How do we keep our water clean? How do we keep our pharmaceuticals safe? How do we pay our national bills? How do we supply our troops? How do we do the things we would all agree on?
We all agree that there is a purpose in government to do things that we all need done, that we cannot do ourselves. I’m for limited government, but there are things government is required to do, even under our Constitution. And it ain’t gonna happen as long we allow two private, power-seeking clubs to shape our system of government to their own narrow, partisan advantage.
That’s why I say let’s turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans — not that they don’t care about America, but we need to have their decisions made not to help them and their team but to help run the country that we all love.