Fri08222014

Community

Morning Forum audience hears tales of our ‘dysfunctional’ nation’s capital


Photo By: Kathryn Tomaino/ Special to the Town Crier
Photo Kathryn Tomaino/ Special To The Town Crier

National correspondent Karen Tumulty said government gridlock in Washington, D.C., has progressively worsened over her 30 years on the beat.

Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for the Washington Post, offered “The View from the Washington, D.C., Beltway” in a Morning Forum of Los Altos presentation April 2.

Government, according to Tumulty, has become increasingly dysfunctional during the 30 years she has covered politics.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan appointed a bipartisan committee to address the projected shortfall in the Social Security system. Despite the complex and politically hazardous task, Democrats and Republicans came together in an impressive show of bipartisanship, Tumulty said. Reconciling the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill took only two days, she added, and within three months of the release of the commission’s report, Reagan signed the bill that would ensure Social Security’s solvency in the coming decades.

Over the next 20 years, bipartisan efforts produced tax reform, welfare reform and trade bills. Tumulty offered several explanations for why such cooperation is virtually “unimaginable” in Washington today.

The biggest change, Tumulty noted, is the great division within the country.

“We used to have a four-party system: conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats, liberal Democrats,” she said. But now, “no Republican in Congress has a more liberal voting record than the most conservative Democrat.”

Furthermore, she added, because of partisan redistricting, few swing districts remain.

Such changes have made compromise increasingly difficult. To exemplify the consequences of the division, Tumulty pointed to the failure of Congress to pass a meaningful gun control law, even in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. Recalling the fate of highly respected former Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), who was “primaried” because of his willingness to compromise with Democrats, she said many in Congress fear jeopardizing their jobs if they anger the National Rifle Association.

Tumulty also identified changes in the media as a polarizing factor. Now people get their news from media outlets that “reinforce what they already believe,” she said, and increasingly partisan news stations focus more on opinion and commentary than on objective reporting.

Tumulty urged American voters to reward rather than punish their representatives for compromising with the other side of the aisle so that Congress will become more productive. Otherwise, she said, we’ll see more of the same.

Although we’ll continue to complain about our worthless politicians, she concluded, we’ll have only ourselves to blame for government gridlock.

Morning Forum is a members-only lecture series held at Los Altos United Methodist Church. For membership details and more information, visit www.morningforum.org.

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