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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Reason still rare in Senate affairs

Linda P. Campbell Fort Worth Star-Telegram

In his book, “Independent Nation,” John P. Avlon quotes a sign that the late Yale law professor Burke Marshall hung on his wall when he was a Justice Department official in the 1960s:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall catch hell from both sides.”

And, sure enough, they did, those seven Republicans and seven Democrats who last month pulled the U.S. Senate from the brink of procedural immolation over the filibuster of judicial nominees.

“Turncoats!” “Spineless cowards!” “Blinking chickens!” came the angrily frothing reaction.

They were accused of a collapse of conscience and treason and propagating a farce that, depending on the opiner’s ideological bent, gave President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist continued unbridled power to push extremists onto the federal courts – or gave obstructionist Democrats continued leeway to foment mischief through intimidation by the minority.

Some thanks for showing the reasonableness so sorely missing in Washington.

Fragile and vague though the compromise over judicial nominees might be, it represented some recognition that chaos and deadlock in the Senate would not be in the broader public interest.

For the moment, it became less important to satisfy the bellowing interest groups on both ends of the political spectrum intent not just on pummeling the evil-incarnate opposition but on reducing it to dust.

Those 14 senators’ moderate stance offered hope of growing recognition that average Americans are weary of the obstinate head-butting over issues that garner headlines but are largely irrelevant to the problems that real people deal with every day.

That dozens of House Republicans and influential senators are willing to break with their party and the president on a modest expansion of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research also shows a glimmer of willingness to put concern for the many who might benefit from medical breakthroughs over the few addicted to party discipline.

Even with the compromise over judges, Stuart Taylor Jr. wrote in National Journal that his dream of a “Militant Moderate Caucus” that would shove hard-liners aside, solve vexing policy dilemmas and listen to mainstream voters “remains forlorn.”

But why should that be?

In reality, mainstream Americans don’t worry on a daily basis about whether federal judges are Clarence Thomas clones or Anthony Kennedy wannabes.

They worry about how they’ll stay afloat in the next downsizing. They worry about whether their health insurance premiums will price them out of family coverage. Worse yet, they worry about paying for medications and emergency room visits without insurance.

Whether they consider abortion a tragedy, an abomination or a right important to women’s autonomy and equality, mainstream Americans are less concerned with Roe v. Wade than they are with whether they’ll be able to buy a house, whether they’ll be destitute in old age, whether their children can find a decent job at a living wage.

Mainstream Americans might consider marriage a sacred trust between a man and a woman; they might believe that what consenting adults do in private is their own business. But they’re less worried about gay marriage than about making sure their neighborhoods are safe from crime, that schools are preparing students for the work world, that they can teach their children to reject the crass and selfish values promoted by popular culture.

Mainstream Americans want terrorism defeated but want our troops to come home safely, they want economic stability as well as physical safety, they’re willing to engage in shared sacrifice, but they don’t want government wasting their money.

Where is the “Militant Moderate Caucus” to tackle their vital issues?

President Bush, despite his claims about being a uniter, not a divider, has repeatedly drawn hard lines, then offered anyone who doesn’t toe them a jab in the eye instead of a welcoming hand of persuasion.

Democratic road blocks at almost every turn do not equal progress.

In “Independent Nation,” published in 2004, Avlon argues in favor of centrists who aren’t fence-sitters or baby-splitters but leaders who find solutions in the best ideas of both parties and who recognize “that what we ultimately share is far greater than what divides us.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid meant to point fingers at Republicans during a National Press Club speech last week, but he cut to the heart of what ails us about today’s political climate:

“Americans are sick and tired of getting caught in the crossfire of partisan sniping. Americans want us to put the common-sense center ahead of nonsense,” he said, according to a Federal News Service transcript.

“Americans want us to bring people together to focus on what we owe to one another and the responsibilities we share. And Americans want their agenda – their jobs, their health security, their security – to get back on the front burners of the nation’s agenda.”

Exactly. So, who’s going to put it there?

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