In 1776, the Founders of our country signed the Declaration of Independence. Eighty-seven years later, or as President Lincoln more eloquently pronounced ‘four score and seven years’ later, Lincoln gave a short speech after 50,000 Americans shot each other to death outside a farming village in Pennsylvania. Fifty thousand dead Americans — shot and stabbed by each other — only one lifetime after the formation of our country and matching almost the total U.S. dead from the Vietnam conflict (58,209). The final casualty count from the Civil War was 624,511, dwarfing even the count for WWII at 400k dead, according to the U.S. Army database. Americans killing Americans. Where were the guys in the middle?
The use of the Civil War to show where Congressional compromise has failed is an extreme measure, but in our current Congress other battles have been pitched from entrenched positions with unfortunate consequences, showing the need for compromise. The ‘Monsanto/ GMO Protection Act‘ is a controversial measure that was introduced anonymously right before a vote on a separate bill was set to take place*. Senator Barbara Mikulski is the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee who released the bill with the additional language. Her office released this statement shortly after:
Senator Mikulski understands the anger over this provision. She didn’t put the language in the bill and doesn’t support it either. As Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski’s first responsibility was to prevent a government shutdown.
Months later, Senator Jeff Merkley responded as well:
The Monsanto Protection Act refers to a policy rider the House slipped into the recently passed continuing resolution and sent over to the Senate. Because of the time-urgent consideration of this must-pass legislation — necessary to avert a government shutdown — this policy rider slipped through without examination or debate.
Both senators are saying the same thing — that they didn’t want the GMO measure added to the unrelated spending bill — but had no choice as they were against the ropes on a ‘must-sign’ piece of legislation. Painting themselves into this corner is what opened them up to the vulnerability and a strategic compromise before then on the spending bill would have staved off the exploitation of the situation. Having sitting senators signing laws they don’t want in order to band-aid a different problem is proof of a larger issue.
People ask me what I would do differently if I win the election and go to Congress. My career until now has been directing and producing TV spots, shows and movies. Everyone agrees that the entertainment business is a collaborative artform. This is a given — it’s taught at the schools and on your first day as a PA running to get the boss’s coffee. A Collaborative Artform, meaning finance needs the writer to create the story needs a director to shape the narrative needs talent to express the vision needs a crew to capture the moments needs a marketing team to spread the word and so on.
Why is this not the way our elected officials see their job? In the entertainment industry, we all know that without every department showing up and giving their best, the project won’t be any good. It’s that simple.
The lack of bipartisan cooperation in our Congress shows that the rules of governing have to change. As a Congressman I would enact daily bi-partisan meetings, social functions designed purely for bi-partisan interaction, and advocate for more like-minded Representatives — avowed Independents – who are elected purely to create communication between the parties.
My day to day would be engaging scheduled and impromptu discussions across party lines to find bi-partisan wiggle room and who needs what and who can give what to get things done. ‘Chasing The Hill’ has a multi-million dollar cast on a multi-thousand-dollar budget and it’s due largely to listening and negotiating, figuring out how to provide what people want in return for what the project needs. If you’re tired of hearing how the two parties don’t communicate with each other then send me to Congress. The true art form of Congress is the music of Compromise.
Former Speaker of the House, senator and presidential candidate Henry Clay is considered the Father of Congressional Compromise and he is a hero of mine. He was one of the five delegates that President Madison sent to negotiate peace with the British after the War of 1812 and he personally created the Missouri Compromise in 1820, which kept the US from Civil War for over 30 years. In 1833 he kept South Carolina in the Union with his Compromise Tariff and in 1850 his fierce brand of oration centered on California.
At 72 years old and suffering the effects of advanced tuberculosis, Clay addressed the Chamber as to California being introduced to the Union as a slave or non-slave state and how new territories acquired from the Mexican American War would be handled in regards to slavery. He believed that this last Compromise had saved the Union but he died shortly after, unable to shepherd his vision into reality. Henry Clay:
Mr. President, what is a compromise? It is a work of mutual concession – an agreement in which there are reciprocal stipulations – a work in which, for the sake of peace and concord, one party abates his extreme demands in consideration of an abatement of extreme demands by the other party: it is a measure of mutual concession – a measure of mutual sacrifice…And now let us discard all resentment, all passions, all petty jealousies, all personal desires, all love of place, all hankerings after the gilded crumbs which fall from the table of power…Let us look to our country and our cause, elevate ourselves to the dignity of pure and disinterested patriots, and save our country from all impending dangers. What if, in the march of this nation to greatness and power, we should be buried beneath the wheels that propel it onward!
Well said, Mr. Clay.
Wednesday, 24 July 2013