A guest column in this paper recently contended that federal spending and its detrimental effects was the most important issue in Mississippi’s Republican primary election for United States Senate. I absolutely concur on the importance of this issue. As the father of two children under four and another due in August, I am greatly distressed thinking of the deficits and debts with which our children may be left and utterly dismayed by the lack of leadership in Congress to do anything about it.
Yet as vitally important as federal spending surely is, even more important is electing someone who can actually do something about it and the other problems facing our country. It is one thing to diagnose our nation’s problems in a vacuum; it is quite another to make progress towards addressing them in the context of the United States Senate.
It must be remembered that the United States Senate is made up of men and women with vastly different backgrounds and political viewpoints. For every Rand Paul or Ted Cruz there is a Chuck Schumer or Bernie Sanders (a self-described socialist from Vermont). And the Senators on the far-left have just as much power to block legislation as those on the far-right. Moreover, the Senate, currently controlled by the Democratic Party, is only one of three components in the federal policy-making process, along with the House of Representatives and the President. The cold hard fact is that in order to actually accomplish anything of substance, United States Senators, especially Republicans at the present, must sometimes work across the aisle, they must be willing to give and take, they must sometimes—gasp!—compromise.
The most consequential conservative of our time, Ronald Reagan, understood this well. Reagan wrote in his autobiography that “[i]f you got seventy-five or eighty percent of what you were asking for, I say, you take it and fight for the rest later, and that’s what I told these radical conservatives who never got used to it.” Although firmly committed to conservative principles, Reagan was just as committed to addressing the nation’s problems and avoiding gridlock. This is why he forged relationships with key Democrats in Congress, most notably Tip O’Neil in the House and Ted Kennedy in the Senate.
Reagan understood that a successful legislator never makes the perfect the enemy of the good, that policy-making is not a zero-sum game, and that, as Russell Kirk, the intellectual architect of modern American conservatism, often said, “politics is the art of the possible.” And the result of Reagan’s approach was some of the most conservative policy-making in the twentieth century.
On the other hand, and as recent history demonstrates, an unwillingness to work across the aisle when necessary to achieve important policy goals leads to gridlock and government shutdown. Gridlock and government shutdown constitute irresponsible governance, and results in increased rancor, national instability, public disdain for Congress, and disillusionment with government. Sound familiar?
The ultimate flaw with one of the candidates in the Republican primary race, as I see it, is that not only does he eschew compromise, he has made his unwillingness to compromise a central part of his platform. While such an approach may make for rousing speeches to those understandably eager for a “fighter” in Congress, it is not an approach that bodes well for successful problem solving in Congress. Indeed, such an approach will only further paralyze Congress’ ability to address our nation’s problems.
What we need more of in Congress are legislators who will rise above the rancor, the name-calling, the “my way or the highway” mentality (as often demonstrated, ironically, by our current President) and focus instead on legislating, on getting the job done. Sadly, for a variety of reasons, these sorts of legislators are becoming harder to find. Fortunately for Mississippi, however, one of the candidates in this race, the incumbent, fits and indeed embodies this description. The other candidate, regrettably, does not.
» Spencer M. Ritchie is an attorney for Watkins and Eager in Jackson, Mississippi.