What generates headlines?
Politicians who grandstand use sloppy language that denigrates the opposition. Such heated rhetoric gets a rise from devotees because it appeals to their biases and base emotions.
Republican Party stalwart Bob Dole is sick of the political skirmishes that grandstanding starts.
Interviewed on “Fox News Sunday” last May, Dole chastised his party as divisive rather than decisive for the common good. He suggested that party leaders hang a “closed for repairs” sign on their doors and hunker down behind them until they construct a positive agenda to move America forward.
Dole feels uncomfortable in the Republican Party, as would Ronald Reagan if still living, he says. Language is tossed about like the proverbial fool who “throws off verbal restraint and is careless” with vitriolic outbursts (Proverbs 14:16). Grandstanders start silly quarrels. They falsify and demonize opposition.
Not that Dole is ready to leave the GOP. As a former Senate majority leader and past presidential candidate, he railed against government big enough to give you what you want and strong enough to rob citizens of personal liberties. In the 1980s, he ran with the religious right’s naysayers and played the race card with Southern whites to garner votes.
However, Dole recognizes the difference between governing for the common good and grandstanding that whips Republican diehards into tight political corners.
“It seems to be almost unreal that we can’t get together on a budget or legislation,” lamented Dole. “I mean, we weren’t perfect by a long shot, but at least we got our work done.”
Now House Republicans log-jam immigration reform. They use stock rejoinders to stop what the Gang of 8 from both sides of the aisle hashed out. Borders aren’t safe enough, claim some GOP gripers. We must punish Mexicans who have lived for years in the United States and raised families here because they are “illegal aliens.” Such bellyaching causes interminable quarreling in the House of Representatives.
Soft-spoken Sen. Michael F. Bennet, the Gang of 8’s chief author for the Senate immigration bill, writes about its beneficial effects. “It will secure our borders, strengthen our economy and establish a rational and sensible system for the future flow of immigrants.
“It creates paths to citizenship for millions of people who came to this country for a better life, but are now living in the shadows. The path is not easy, and depends on whether certain border security requirements are met, but it is real and attainable” (The Denver Post, July 7, pp.1, 6 D).
Shortly after Dole chastised the cantankerous Republican Party, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a tea party favorite, announced she wouldn’t seek re-election to her seat in 2014.
She grandstands. Bachmann uses prickly words to draw her opponents’ blood. Her snippy rejoinders erupt like a geyser spewing hot air.
Her overstated grandstanding garners headlines. In a House floor speech, she dismissed making health care affordable for those who lack it. “Obamacare, as we know,” she snapped, “is the crown jewel of socialism.” Bachmann makes Dole cringe because she sensationalizes issues rather than seeking common ground.
Bachmann pins Obamacare’s blame on a president who, she insinuates, lacks an American birth certificate and grew up in Muslim Indonesia where treasured American values are trashed. As she once blustered, “Most Americans are wild about America, and they are very concerned to have a president who doesn’t share those values.”
Such dark charges make Bachmann flash like a jack-o’-lantern — a dim light in a vacant space. She adopts causes that lack illumination, such as her Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act. “President Bachmann will allow you to buy any light bulb you want,” she crowed when campaigning for the presidential nomination in 2012. The lights went out on both her presidential bid and this vintage light bulb campaign.
Former President Gerald R. Ford wrote an article in the January 1963 edition of Fortune magazine in which he pinpointed a remedy to the GOP’s congressional ills. Create a future, he insisted, in which the GOP cuts a course “between the shoals of simple obstructionism and inert me-tooism.”
Dole agrees. Grandstanding obstructs productive conversation because the speaker cockily recites biases regarded as answers. It puts the spotlight on the grandstander, which prohibits resolving disagreements.
It’s easier to quarrel in order to get party loyalists’ reactions than to prod them to reflect and move government ahead to meet citizens’ needs.
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com).