Al Swift 2¢ Worth

This Uncivil Congress – No. 1: Who Started The Rot?

Democrats blame the current corrosive climate in Congress on the Republicans. To be sure, the Hard Right is very certain of its views and tends to feel it has found the TRUTH about most everything.

Republicans respond that there are lots of firebrands on the other side of the aisle whose superior airs and sharp tongues do not contribute to civility and decorum. From there both get into the whole “Who shot John … first?” argument which leads nowhere.

There is some truth to the respective charges. However, I don’t think it is any where near the whole explanation for the lamented lack of civility in Congress these days. Let me tell you a story.

My partner, Bob Hynes, was Republican Counsel to the Rules Committee in the days when Gerald Ford was the GOP House leader. One day he witnessed a vigorous debate – hammer and tongs all the way – between the legendary Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, George Mahon (D-TX) and the ranking Republican of the powerful Rules Committee, Clarence Brown (R-OH). The clank of verbal broad swords was still echoing through the chamber when the House adjourned for the day.

A little later, Bob delivered some papers to Congressman Brown and asked if wanted to look at them right then and give any instructions.

“No,” Congressman Brown said, “I have to get home and help my wife get ready. The Chairman and Mrs. Mahon are coming over for dinner tonight. Then we’ll play bridge.”

How things have changed. But that story also provides a clue as to why they have changed. Sharp-edged partisanship clearly has brought Congress to its current acrid condition with “nuclear options,” altered ethics rules and stymied Presidential appointments. But what has caused – or permitted to develop – this relentless, unyielding and acrimonious partisanship?

Perhaps surprisingly, I think it has as much to do with jet planes, nitpicking rules, continuous campaigning and relentless fund raising than it does with Hard Right/Hard Left venom. We’ll discuss that the next time I get 2¢.

Posted on Monday, August 15th, 2011
By: csh
Posted in: 2005
Colling Swift & Hynes P.O. Box 275 Clifton, VA 20124 P. (202) 347-8000 F. (202) 315-2598