Circling campaign wagons paralyzes governing

“I know that sometimes folks in Congress think that compromise is a bad word.  They figure they’ll pay a higher price at the polls for working with the other side than they will for standing pat or engaging in obstructionism…
“All of us are concerned about our politics, both in our own party’s as well as the other party’s.  But at some point, we’ve got to do some governing.”
– President Barack Obama to a National Governors Association meeting, Monday, at the White House

When there are no more votes to be counted or money to be raised, the campaign turns from electioneering to the noble pursuit of governance. In January, right hands raise and oaths are taken and those elected to do the country’s business sit down and get to work.

At least, that’s the way it seemed when I was growing up. But children born in the 1990s have only been exposed to partisan division, where Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Bill Frist and Tom DeLay whipped the greed of politicians like they were horses in a chariot race, teaching them that, in the pursuit of power, the campaigning never ends.

Representatives, on both sides of the aisle, roll their campaign war chests over before the last polls have closed on the first Tuesday in November, in our biannual Congressional cycle, making calls before the sun is past the yard arm on Wednesday to encourage lobbyists and big donors to woo them for influence, and finance the next campaign. Those who are relatively reasoned announce abdication to the polluted political process for fear of an expensive primary challenge in the coming cycle.

As the president told the NGA, “[T]his town has to get past its obsession with focusing on the next election instead of the next generation.”

This is why President Obama continues in what his detractors like to call “campaign mode,” because while the Republican led House of Representatives is worried about losing their base by coalescing around a plan that will help the country, and engaging in their own “campaign mode” to keep from losing the generosity of backers, the president has nothing to lose. But he is not campaigning to be reelected. He is campaigning to restore functionality to our federal government, and for his legacy.

One could argue that he took a similar tack after the 2008 campaign, launching a publicity tour, in 2009, to tout his health care plan. It was at that point that the Republicans circled their campaign wagons, with former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) declaring healthcare to be “Obama’s Waterloo,” and Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) laying out the campaign goal of making Obama “a one term president.”

It may turn out, a bit ironically, that passing and upholding the Affordable Care Act is actually the Waterloo of the Republican Party, for it was out of that single issue that the anti-Obama fanatics found their money and their voice, and the GOP spread its legs like a coke whore (or Koch whore) and welcomed their money and their foolishness in.

But the president, today, urged the nation’s governors to move past the election “obsession” that is strangling action in Congress, in the pragmatic way state executives must. “The American people are out there every single day, meeting their responsibilities, giving it their all to provide for their families and their communities,” he told them. “A lot of you are doing the same things in your respective states. Well, we need that same kind of attitude here in Washington. At the very least, the American people have a right to expect that from their representatives.”

Unfortunately, what we have a right to expect, and what we actually expect, have become mutually exclusive. The only way to get what we expect our elected representatives to deliver, is to treat power the same way they do – like there’s an election at stake every second of every minute of everyday. Only when we do that, when we challenge them to actually represent us (and not just their party), will they pay attention to what we expect out of them.

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