By Mike Norman
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Dinner-table conversation is a favored pastime at our house, though not as heavy as Joe Kennedy quizzing his young family and grooming one or more to be future presidents. But we enjoy discussing the day’s news.
“Do you think it was always this bad?” our son, Jason, 26, asked as we talked during the holidays about the polarization of the “fiscal cliff” congressional debate.
“No. It’s gotten a lot worse,” my wife, Sandy, and I answered together.
I can’t say that’s a scientific conclusion, but it does seem like Congress today is more sharply divided, more unwilling to find middle ground than it was in previous years.
In the end, the Senate was pretty much one-sided, 89-8, for a compromise bill that dissolved the threat of sharp middle-class tax increases but delayed action on spending cuts.
Agreement in the House was not so bipartisan, with most Republican members holding out for action to reduce federal spending.
There’s time to reach broader agreement before the deadline for decisions on spending cuts comes around two months from now, but there’s little reason to believe things will run more smoothly then.
As President Barack Obama acknowledged during one of his debates with GOP candidate Mitt Romney before the Nov. 6 election, the most prominent voices among Republicans and Democrats have settled into two sharply different and mutually exclusive worldviews.
Obama Democrats favor federal policies that benefit the middle class and the poor, at the expense of the rich if necessary. Dominant Republicans dislike policies that redistribute income, saying they destroy basic American liberty.
Still, there are strong forces today that spread the policy divide, push political camps apart and strain our republican system.
First is a redistricting process so advanced in its technical capabilities that in the hands of knowledgeable operators it can determine who gets elected.
Second is the massive supply of political money that take up where redistricting leaves off, steering elections and manipulating the legislative process.
The surprise is that such powerful outside influences haven’t overwhelmed the government into complete ineffectiveness or one-party rule.
Mike Norman is editorial director of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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