‘Cannot See the Forest for the Trees’ is an old English idiom that the dictionary says dates back to the 16th Century. It describes a situation in which the bigger picture is overlooked because of a focus on detail.
It came to mind during the 4-day super-charged opening of the 118th Congress that ultimately resulted in the election of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker.
Twenty House Republicans turned the usually ritualistic formality into high drama. There was a dichotomy of motivations as Karl Rove pointed out in the Wall Street Journal today. Some of those members had a sincere if not passionate interest in rules changes that would open up the legislative process so that rank-and-file members had more influence over the flow of bills, resolutions, and amendments. There was merit in some of those changes, but not all. Karen Tumulty explored those worthwhile procedures in the Washington Post.
Others were making a power grab or just sticking it to Kevin McCarthy, who they consider a poor legislator and lacking in ideology or allegiance to their right-wing orthodoxy—distinguishable from conservative orthodoxy.
People are not sure what to call it—excessive partisanship, bad behavior, negativism, gridlock, polarization, stridency, intolerance, ideological extremes.
It is collectively, incivility and it is, arguably, worse now than it has been in American history.
Something must be done about it.
Pundits such as the Washington Post’s George Will and the Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone have argued otherwise. Barone, for example, recently bemoaned the bemoaners of what he called ‘hyperpartisanship’ in American politics, suggesting that the problem is not as bad as it may seem and attempts to rectify it in the past have just made matters worse.
Go ahead. Click on the link above (Congressional staff salaries) and type in a few names of people you have known who worked on Capitol Hill since 2000. LegisStorm seems to think they have uncovered the Holy Grail lost since antiquity.
Big deal. Congressional staff salaries and office expenses have been public knowledge ever since the first Congress sat in 1789.
Did you know that 2/3’s of the 14th Congress were voted out of office in 1816? ‘Why?’ you might ask.
Because the 14th Congress voted themselves a hefty pay raise to the lofty sum of $1500 per year. Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House, got the gargantuan (for then) salary of $3000.
Mr. Clay almost was defeated himself in 1816 in which case, the nation may never have come to know just how brilliant he was as a legislator and the ‘Uncompromising Compromiser’ as the authors of the great book, ‘Henry Clay: The Essential American’, Daniel and Jeanne Heidler, chose to characterize him. Read it over these holidays and learn more about how our government matured into the form it is today under his leadership in the early days of the Republic.
Here’s the problem with the reporting of congressional salaries nowadays: There is never any context in any reporting about them to provide the public any idea of what our elected representatives, senators and staff do on a regular day in Congress. Continue reading →
The weeks and months following the September 11, 2001 attacks were extraordinary, filled with anger, revenge, heartbreak, sadness, patriotism, national unity and spiritualism. We were America again, all for one and one for all. That was the good that rose from the ashes of tragedy. Survey researchers said we had changed forever.
It wasn’t just the high degree of patriotism, but the spirit of civility and common cause that permeated both political thinking and behavior. President Bush threw his arm around a retired firefighter when he visited the twin towers site, reflecting how strongly Americans felt about working together and uniting against a common enemy. There were pledges and promises to keep that spirit alive, to work together and treat each other better. It was even evident in Congress.