Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Part I - The Proposal and Mavericks

In his column of September 4, 2005 in The New York Times, David Brooks recounts and deplores a parade of failure of our government in recent years (“No wonder confidence in civic institutions is plummeting”). He concludes almost prayerfully:
Maybe this time there will be a progressive resurgence. Maybe we are entering an age of hardheaded law and order. . .maybe there will be a call for McCainist patriotism and nonpartisan independence. All we can be sure of is that the political culture is about to undergo some big change. (italics supplied).

Here, in response to Brooks’s implied plea, is A Modest Proposal: that some able, independent-minded women and men take up his challenge and run for seats in Congress as avowed nonpartisans. They can do this as independent candidates; even better, they can enter the primary of a major party as a frank and open nonpartisan in hopes of defeating the choice of the regular party organization and taking over the party’s line on the ballot for the general election. Chances for success have never been better: large sectors of the public are upset with the bitter partisan wrangling in Congress.

Howard Dean and John Kerry showed in 2004 that dedicated candidates can raise large sums of money, in small contributions, over the Internet; nonpartisans, using the same methods, should be able to fill war chests adequate for statewide campaigns for a Senate seat, and even more easily for a Congressional district campaign. There is every reason to believe that a very special party insurgent will attract a significant number of contributions from out-of-state, as well as from constituents.

The 20th Century has a rich history of independent spirits in Congress. Their accomplishments against formidable odds are impressive, a history mostly unknown to , or forgotten by, recent generations. They were few in number, to be counted on the fingers of one hand: Senators Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin, George W. Norris of Nebraska, Burton K. Wheeler of Montana, and Wayne L. Morse of Oregon, and Representative Fiorello H. LaGuardia, who was a feisty Congressman before ever he became the iconic mayor of New York City.

Some often served in the same Congress, working together on the same issues, giving each other welcome support. Each emphatically marched to his own music. This autonomy was never more in evidence, as will be seen, in their respective reactions to the issue of war, none more agonizing for a legislator. Each, in his time, faced the issue, as to which they were all over the map. Which underscores how each followed his own understanding of issues and his conscience, free of partisan influence and pressure, or, for that matter, public opinion. Still, their constituents returned them to Congress term after term. Each, in his time, was a darling of the political cartoonists and of the press, for they were such good copy. Indeed, each entered the folklore of the country; as will be seen, each figures in recent literary or dramatic works.

It will be instructive and, one would hope, inspirational to revisit their experiences in Congress. It might even be intimidating.

Next Installment: ROBERT M. LaFOLLETTE (1855-1925)

To download a complete copy of A Modest Proposal, click here.

No comments: