Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

What Now?

Stephen V. Monsma


November 10, 2006

The midterm election has come and gone. The seemingly interminable television ads are thankfully gone and replaced by pundits explaining the whys and therefores of the election.

One thing is clear: the voters wanted change and change they will get. For the first time since 1994, Democrats will control both the House of Representatives and the Senate. As the Democrats move to assume these new powers, there is one thing they should not do and one thing they should do.

What Democrats should not do is use Congress to rake Republicans over the coals and investigate what went wrong in Iraq, in the government's response to Katrina, in ethics violations in Congress, or in other past failures. It will be tempting to do so. Making the Bush administration look bad and exposing whatever missteps it and the congressional Republicans have made might help the Democrats lay the groundwork for a 2008 takeover of the White House.

But doing so would continue the hyper-partisanship that has divided Washington into hostile, warring camps and has blocked progress on many urgent problems. Future historians and other scholars will pass judgment on the Bush administration and what it has done right and what it has done wrong. Trying to score partisan points by highlighting past failures does not yield answers to present problems.

What the Democrats should do with their new-found power is to work in a bipartisan manner with the Bush administration and congressional Republicans to put forward a positive program of reform and change. We as a nation need new policies in Iraq, tight new ethics rules for Congress, immigration reform that deals realistically and justly with the millions of undocumented aliens already living in our country, health-care reform that provides insurance for the millions now without insurance, and an energy policy that moves us away from increasing dependence on imported oil and helps meet the challenge of global warming.

With slim Democratic majorities in Congress and with the Republicans still in control of the White House, progress in meeting urgent problems can only occur through bipartisan cooperation. That cooperation, in turn, can only occur if both parties put a sincere search for policy solutions ahead of partisan one-upmanship.

On election night, one TV commentator suggested that the Democratic Congress will probably pass a strong bill funding embryonic stem-cell research in the expectation that President Bush will veto it. That would then give Democrats, in his opinion, a great campaign issue for 2008. This is the exact sort of partisan game that both the Democratic Congress and the Republican White House need to reject.

Some may believe that I am hopelessly naive to think that bipartisan cooperation and a focus on real solutions to real problems is even possible. Are you not asking politicians to stop being politicians? With a presidential election coming up in two years how can you expect Democrats and Republicans not to try to wring partisan advantage out of every issue that comes along?

But politics must be about more than politics. Politics as a seeking after a more just order in society ought to be about more than politics as the pursuit of power. The God-intended nature of politics is about working for a more just society that seeks the common good, protects the weak and vulnerable, and promotes peace and reconciliation abroad.

A strong democracy depends upon there being political leaders who are willing to lay aside partisanship and to govern "your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice," as Psalm 72 expresses it. May such leaders in both the Democratic and Republican parties step forward.

—Stephen V. Monsma, Research Fellow
    The Henry Institute, Calvin College


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”