Sunday, September 25, 2011

A question raised by an NPR Segment - is Compromise the Lubricant of Democracy?

This morning NPR had a segment with Bob Bennett and Byron Dorgan - Dorgan retired from the US Senate after a long and distinguished career but at least with the partial recognition (which NPR appropriately failed to mention) that it was unlikely he could win another term.  Bennett was defeated for re-election in Utah because the participants in the caucus system thought he was not GOP enough.  In the piece it was described that some people thought he was thrown out because he dared to consider compromise on the healthcare bill.  That is a gross over-simplification of what actually happened.

The NPR piece tried to paint the picture that the Senate was changing and that it was harder to get compromise because it was less possible to reach across party lines.   Anyone who watches the process understands that to be true.   Bennett - commented the that "Compromise is the lubricant of democracy"   The more I thought about that the more concerned I grew.

Bennett argued that he and (former) Senator Chris Dodd (of the special deals for mortgages fame) forged the TARP agreement when the financial markets had precipitously declined by a trillion dollars.   I agree that Bennett and Dodd helped to formulate the TARP.    The financial markets were in fundamental disarray(in part because of policies developed in Congress) and it is unclear whether adoption of TARP aided or slowed the process of recovery.  Conventional Washington wisdom of both the problem and possible solutions may or may not have been clear enough or sufficiently broad enough to serve the needs of the nation.

Bennett lost because he had lost touch with his constituents.  He (like Dorgan) settled not back in his home state but it DC.  So while I believe democrats and republicans should learn how to speak to each other more effectively - I am also convinced that spending a long career in DC may dull one's sense about the range and breadth of alternatives to solve our nation's challenges.

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