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Whether it was after Democrats’ winning heavily in 2008 or Republicans’ winning heavily this year, recent U.S. congressional elections have been followed by requests from media members, including this newspaper, for both sides to work together better and seek more bipartisan solutions to our country’s challenges.
So far the politicians haven’t listened often enough to those requests. But will they heed such requests better when they come from one of their own and from someone they hired?
Arlen Specter is leaving the Senate after 30 years, having served as a Republican and Democrat. In his final speech on the Senate floor last week, he “bemoaned the loss of a Senate where both parties seemed to be interested in finding compromise, and he was especially critical of lawmakers who campaigned against their fellow members,” wrote Holly Bailey of Yahoo! News.
“That conduct was beyond contemplation in the Senate I joined 30 years ago,” Specter said. “Collegiality can obviously not be maintained when negotiating with someone simultaneously out to defeat you, especially within your own party.”
He called the increasing lack of civility in politics discouraging. “Civility is a state of mind,” Specter said. “It reflects respect for your opponents and for the institutions you serve together.” Political polarization, he said, will make civility in the upcoming Congress “more difficult (but) more necessary than ever.”
Robert V. Remini is the official historian of the House of Representatives and has published thorough biographies of several former members of Congress.
This year Remini published a book about the Compromise of 1850, “At the Edge of the Precipice: Henry Clay and the Compromise that Saved the Union.”
Remini had fairly thoroughly covered that compromise in a 700-page biography of Clay he published 19 years ago, but he made it clear why he chose to publish a new book on the subject now. In the preface he wrote that he seeks “to show the importance of compromise in resolving problems of great magnitude in the history of the country . . . This point is especially important today when the nation faces myriad problems . . . that will, in all likelihood, require both major political parties to agree to compromise their differences.”
One encouraging sign that Specter and Remini’s point may actually be getting through to Congress is the Senate’s ratifying last Wednesday the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a nuclear disarmament agreement with Russia signed by President Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev in April. The Senate passed the treaty 71-26, with 13 Republicans voting for it.
Indiana’s Richard Lugar was the first Republican to speak out in favor of the treaty, urging his colleagues last month, “Please do your duty for your country. We do not have verification of the Russian nuclear posture right now. We’re not going to have it until we sign the START treaty. We’re not going to be able to get rid of further missiles and warheads aimed at us.”
Lugar took his strong stand, which many Republicans opposed, despite rumors that he will face opposition from the Tea-Party wing of his party in the 2012 primary election.
So statesmanship, which must often include compromise, can still be found in Congress and in our own state’s delegation. Let’s hope that it spreads to other issues as well.
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