McGovern urges return to politics of people skills

The wall of failed 1972 liberal Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern’s Washington office bore a photo of failed 1964 conservative Republican nominee Barry Goldwater with the inscription, “If you’re going to lose, lose big.”  Both lost in landslides, disagreed on any number of issues, but they were friends, joined by humor and good will.  Worcester Congressman Jim McGovern, speaking to the New England Council, points to the Goldwater/McGovern relationship as evidence of what’s missing in politics today.

“We need more friendships, more politics.  We need the President to invite more people to the White House,” he observed, noting that politics, in the best sense of the word, is about more than policy and polls. People’s relationships are what lubricate the process. 

Jon Meacham writes compellingly in the NY Times about how skillfully Thomas Jefferson used socializing as a political tool.   It sounds nice, but, in the short time we have till deadline,  I’m not sure of how much amity we’ll see in the push to address the looming “fiscal cliff.”

The “fiscal cliff,” says McGovern, is an “artificial, a crisis of our own making.”  What Congress should be doing is having bills drafted, holding hearings before relevant committees, marking up legislation, and voting.  Instead, we now have posturing before the threat of a looming sequestration deadline and a “take-it-or-leave-it” approach.  But balancing the budget is more than a numbers exercise, and there are people behind the programs.  McGovern insists he will decide on the basis of reasonableness and fairness, but wants to make sure the things he cares about most won’t get eviscerated.

Those priorities include poor people, education and helping people get back into the economic mainstream.  He sees National Institute of Health, National Science Foundation and education bearing on our future economic competitiveness.  He sees bloat in the Defense Department, including items that even the generals say they don’t need, as begging for cuts.

McGovern says that, in supporting a final package, he probably will be voting yes on a package that includes things he won’t like.  But he dodged a question on cuts he’d go along with even though he doesn’t support them.  He insists “people like me have to be reasonable about revenue” but also says that, in the take-it-or-leave-it atmosphere, “If it’s a bad deal, then we have to be prepared to leave it.”

Finding a place between avoiding something that’s bad for the country and negotiating a reasonable compromise to move forward depends on Presidential leadership.  McGovern hopes Obama listens to “his inner FDR and LBJ, rather than his inner Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon.” Joe Nocera had an excellent column in the NY Times recommending some specific cabinet changes the President could make to bring a fresh approach to the Administration.  I’m not convinced Obama would be so bold.

Worse, the House is still colored by the Tea Party class of 2010, and the politics of compromise, politics as the art of the possible, politics where people talk to each other, may have to wait until 2013…….in which case, hold onto your seats during this fiscal cliff phase; we’re in for a really rough ride.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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One Response to McGovern urges return to politics of people skills

  1. Well said; going hand in hand with this is the need for filibuster reform. Hopefully the rules will be changed so bills can get to the floor of the Senate, and filibuster doesn’t occur again to even decide whether a bill goes to conference committee after being passed by both houses. Dysfunction of the Senate only adds to the impossibility of getting anything done.

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