I confess that I’ve been all-consumed the last several months with my new job and unable to blog as much as I’d like. It was to be expected – and hopefully understood. Notwithstanding, there are many things happening in DC, which, although still very dysfunctional, occasionally reveals a slow-burning ember of hope that politics someday will take a back seat to good governance and decision-making. Members of Congress are no different than the rest of us, captive to the same human instincts and incentives, both good and bad. Increasingly, Americans are fed up with the partisan politics and ideological divide and the inability of our elected officials to govern in the best interest of the Country. Regrettably, wisdom and prudence yield to the human need for control or simply to be right, because goddammit those other people are just wrong. There’s little time or appetite for self reflection and introspection, or, God forbid, a change of heart and acknowledgment that, yes, “perhaps I could be wrong” or “maybe there’s a different perspective I haven’t fully appreciated.” So when the partisan cold war begins to show signs of thawing and summer renewal, I’m hopeful some will be willing to give credit where credit is due. It may not be much, but this past week, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Senator David Vitter (R-LA), Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV), and Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA) – four powerhouse political leaders – reached an agreement on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. Here was the press announcement, simple but sweet:
We are proud to deliver what the American public wants and needs. This conference report maintains ports and navigation routes for commerce and the movement of goods, provides flood control that protects lives and property, and restores vital ecosystems to preserve our natural heritage. This important measure will strengthen our Nation’s infrastructure and keep American competitive in the global marketplace.
It’s not always I’m in agreement with Senator Boxer – okay, it’s seldom. Notwithstanding, reauthorization of WRDA is a significant milestone. Very few pieces of major federal legislation are reauthorized these days. In fact, the Clean Water Act hasn’t been reauthorized since 1987 and the Clean Air Act since 1990. Our political parties are simply unable or unwilling to work together toward “a” or “the” “common good”, lest such behavior be perceived as weakness or an erosion of political strength needed to pull those levers of power. I’m a realist when it comes to political realities – I don’t believe in fairies. But I do believe in recognizing and reinforcing good behavior, regardless of who is doing the acting. I believe in redemption and second, third, or maybe even fourth chances to make the right decision. And as a professed damn optimist, I remain optimistic about little things like “dam optimization” buried deep in Section 2014 of this arcane and obscure bill. I’m optimistic, because political rivals in this case were willing to put aside their weapons of mass destruction, at least for the time being, to advance federal law that will benefit many Americans and enures to the best interest of our great Nation, legislation which authorizes the Corps of Engineers to go about its business of maintaining dams and water reservoirs and channels of navigation to keep the shipping lanes and ports open for business, keeping the mighty Mississippi out of our homes, and helping to restore coastal environments ravaged by recent storms. This is progress and we should celebrate.
The American public’s dissatisfaction with Congress is to be understood, and perhaps its disapproval has sent a poignant message that most American’s really don’t care about party politics. Maybe we care more about providing for our families, practicing our faith, caring for those around us who are less fortunate, and living free and productive lives. That’s the American dream. And, whether we realize it or not, small gestures of reaching across an ideological divide can help restore those dreams for so many.