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January 12, 2006

Playing Out The ''Gotcha Game''

John W. Ashbury

Watching the U. S. Senate in action this week during the Alito confirmation hearings, one gets a wonderful picture of what is wrong with government in this country. And that “ill” isn’t just inside the Capitol Beltway.

The nastiness that pervades almost every aspect of our political discourse is turning our efforts for public good into a game of “gotcha.” The sad part is that there will be no winners.

As Mark Warner packed his bags in Richmond during the last days of his governorship, he told The Washington Times that: “In Washington, people are more interested in scoring partisan points than getting things done, and I think that is a real yearning in this country for action. To a degree, both parties are guilty. It it’s not absolutely their way, they say they’d rather have no action than their ideologically pure solution. I think that’s crazy.”

Governor Warner, likely a presidential candidate in two years, has hit the nail on the head, much the same as John Hurson, a former Montgomery County delegate who resigned from the General Assembly last fall. He was the chairman of the Health and Government Operations Committee.

In an exit interview with Thomas Dennison of The Gazette newspapers, Delegate Hurson indicated that verbal bickering and divisive comments had to come because one-party rule was a lame race horse that had to be put out to pasture.

He was referring, of course, to the atmosphere in Annapolis since Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich took office in 2003. Democrats want that powerful position back and Republicans want to retain it.

Former Delegate Hurson is not the only prominent Maryland legislator who has accepted outside employment – either in the public or private sector – in recent years just to get away from the bickering in Annapolis. George W. Owings III and Van T. Mitchell resigned to join the Ehrlich Administration. Both told The Gazette that “the partisanship in Annapolis made their decisions to leave the legislature easier.”

The illustration our state leaders have usurped to maintain their positions has come from Washington, perhaps the worst of the worst when picking an example to emulate.

But the political leaders in our nation’s capitol are not to blame alone. The Christian Coalition, organized labor, and other high profile special interest groups are just as responsible for the fever pitch of damaging rhetoric as anyone else.

In Annapolis, most everyone is guilty of untoward remarks designed to embarrass or humiliate those with whom they disagree. And, sometimes, disagreement isn’t the root cause for the stupefying speech. Often it is purely political posturing or for personal gain.

Speaker of the House of Delegates Michael Busch, of Anne Arundel County, and Senate President Mike Miller, of Prince George’s County, seem bound and determined to keep Governor Ehrlich from any sort of legislative victory on which to run for re-election. At the same time Governor Ehrlich seems just as determined not to compromise any of his positions, lest he look weak in the face of the public.

Inside The Beltway the rhetoric gets even more bitter. George W. Bush won the election in 2004; yet the perks of that victory are at the very crux of the problems his administration faces.

The case of Judge Samuel Alito, of the Third Circuit of the U. S. Court of Appeals, who has been nominated to be a justice of The Supreme Court, is a prime example of what is wrong with the political landscape.

Members of our U. S. Senate are single-minded in their efforts to derail his path; not based on the judicial record he has amassed in 15 years on the bench, but rather on memos he wrote as a young attorney working in the Reagan Administration, or simply fear that he won’t rule the way they would like.

While in the Justice Department he represented a client and his client’s position on issues. As a judge he represents all of us and decided whether or not the law was violated, or even if it applies in the case at hand.

His guide is the Constitution which was adopted more than 200 years ago and which has been amended from time to time since, but never frivolously.

Yet Democrats attempt to pin him down on specific issues and Republicans lavish praise, not necessarily unwarranted, but certainly out of place in a confirmation hearing for such an important position.

Watching the hearings makes one wonder if anyone will ever accept any positions in the federal government which requires the approval of a majority of our senators.

It would seem that no matter what a member of one party says or does, the other side will poke at it and attack the representative or senator just because they are members of the “other” party. That seems so ludicrous. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

The public’s business has taken a back seat in the “gotcha game.” And the losers are not members of the opposition party, but rather the citizens of the state and nation who sent these people into elective office to serve the needs of the public.

Over a cup of coffee at a local restaurant the words often heard deliver objections to this congressman or that legislator. The phrase heard most frequently is “let’s throw the rascals out.” But when you ask them about the “rascal” who represents them, they become very defensive and say “not my guy.”

We must begin the journey back to the path our forefathers traveled. They often disagreed – and violently so. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were bitter rivals. Yet they were able to sit down together and hammer out solutions neither really wanted but which were in the best interest of the nation and its people.

John Hanson, who lived in Frederick and who became the “first president of The United States in Congress Assembled under the Articles of Confederation,” stood his ground on an issue he considered critical to the survival of a very young America.

He insisted that – before he would sign the Articles of Confederation for Maryland – all the colonies must cede their claims to the western lands to the central government. It was almost a year before states such as Virginia and New York acquiesced and Hanson signed that first “constitution.” In the fall of that year John Hanson was elected by his peers as the first president.

That wouldn’t and couldn’t happen in the current atmosphere in Washington or Annapolis.

And we only have ourselves to blame because we sent these representatives to the respective legislative bodies. We could change it in November, but we won’t.

What we need is for those we have elected already to calm their vitriolic rhetoric and seek compromise – for that is the essence of politics. If they can’t do that, perhaps they can attempt to just plain understand that the “gotcha game” only has losers.

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