Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) led a panel discussion today at the American Enterprise Institute discussing “options for restoring civility in American politics.”
Lieberman and Boehner both decried the harsh incivility in politics today while portraying themselves as paragons of independence and cordiality.
Lieberman described his own politics as “stand[ing] up for what I believe is right and…work[ing] across party lines to get things done.” As for the rest of politics, “The majority of people are sick of it. They think our political system is sick.” Lieberman blamed “attack ads, the kind of divisiveness of the cable news coverage of politics, talk radio,” and bloggers who “have added another dimension of vituperation toxicity to it.”
Boehner agreed, saying he has worked to “find ways of disagreeing without being disagreeable.” He asked innocently, “Where does all the partisanship come from?” and answered it by lamenting how blogs and other outlets have put “more information out in the public realm than there ever was, and some of it is to drive one point of versus other, dividing people more and more.” He called this the “breakdown of America.”
Iraq, more than any other issue, has contributed to the divisiveness in politics today. And on that issue, Lieberman and Boehner have acquiesced to a failing, unpopular Bush policy while demeaning those who sought to change it:
Critics of Bush’s Iraq war strategy are engaging “in a kind of harassment.” [4/12/07]
Ned Lamont’s primary win “will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England.” [8/10/06]
[The war critics' plan] provides a road map for terrorists. … It is a danger to both our troops engaged in combat and to the long-term security interests of American families. [3/22/07]
Unfortunately, the Democrats latest plan is an old twist on an old adage: failure at any cost. … Democrats are using the critical troop funding bill to micromanage the war on terror — undermining our generals on the ground and slowly choking off resources for our troops. [3/8/07]
People who oppose escalation are taking the “bait” of “al Qaeda and terrorist sympathizers” by using Iraq to “divide us here at home.” [2/13/07]
LIEBERMAN: I want to talk personally about this in two ways. One, to suggest that public opinion may not be totally as clear — as John suggested — as the polls show, which is that, yeah, the public is frustrated about the war. So are we. The public wants to get out as soon as possible. So do we. I don’t think the American people want to lose this war because I think they understand the consequences, and they certainly don’t want to undercut our troops in the field. Also, just to echo what John said, this is war, this is one the great responsibilities we are given as elected officials. We can’t hold our finger in the air or read public opinion polls to tell us where to go. My God, if those who preceded us had done that, forget where we’d be today, we wouldn’t be a nation, we wouldn’t be free today, you can go back over it. But let me go to last year real quickly, in my case. Obviously, the Democratic primary was mostly about one issue, the war. I felt so strongly about it I wasn’t going to change. I lost, I went on. If the people of Connecticut — if last year’s election in Connecticut was only about the Iraq war, I would have lost because the public opinion polls show clearly a majority in Connecticut are opposed to the war. But, you know, I made an appeal to the people. I said, I’m not going to promise you we’re going to agree all the time. I’m going to promise you I’m going to stand up for what I believe is right and I’m going to work across party lines to get things done. And they were good enough Democrats, independents, and Republicans — particularly the latter two groups — to give me their support to continue. And I do think there is a larger message here for our politics. I think the public is fed up. They feel that both the political parties, mostly because of the primaries, maybe because of attack ads, the kind of divisiveness of the cable news coverage of politics, talk radio, the bloggers have added another dimension of vituperation toxicity to it. The majority of people are sick of it. They think our political system is sick. I will just end with this warning that if the two major — the fastest growing political party in america is that no party. people are registering as an event is because they are fed up with — they don’t see them in the two major parties and they are sick of the kerri, the partisanship and on civility and i think if the two major parties wouldn’t hear this going into ’08, there is a real chance of an independent third-party candidacy. and watch out if that happens.
BOEHNER: one of the points you make is — where does all the partisanship come from? the breakdown in america and — you could argue which came first the chicken or the eydie has invent the nafta campaigns. Or has it been this increasing polarization that we’ve seen over the last 20 years driven by 24-hour news networks, talk radio, blogs — they’ve got to have something there, so there is more information out in the public realm than there ever was, and some of it is to drive one point of versus other, dividing people more and more, and then you’ve got every interest group known to man out there drumming up their issues, on one side or the other. And while there may be a growing sense of independence of that, i haven’t seen it yet. because the other — when you push and pull and tug the american people it is about 46% republicans, about 46% democrat and about a% middle — so — what i have been trying to do over the last few years is to find ways of disagreeing without being disagreeable.