After two years in which Congress was able to make bipartisan strides on a few issues, that kind of progress is now less likely.
Comments on Congress
Legislators are confronted with twin tasks: discerning and then pursuing the common good, and finding enough common ground with colleagues and the public at large to make progress possible.
For a legislator who is truly trying to do her or his best for the country, the state, or the community, deciding how to vote requires hard work.
I believe wholeheartedly that the great mission of Congress is not to pass a budget or to enact legislation, as important as those things might be. Instead, its purpose is to help maintain freedom in this country.
Elections are our chance to weigh in and set priorities, even if what ultimately happens over the next two years will be the result of the dynamics on Capitol Hill and at the White House.
On the whole, it often feels as though the maneuvering for political advantage in Congress and many legislatures has grown more aggressive than it used to be, both in terms of hardball partisan tactics and members’ own elbow-throwing efforts to garner attention.
Politics is as intellectually challenging as any occupation I can imagine, and when you succeed at somehow changing your community or state or country for the better, it’s also as satisfying.
After the dust has cleared, Congress will be narrowly divided and President Biden will have to work hard to govern effectively.
It's a truism that elections matter. But we sometimes forget that participation in elections matters just as much.
One of the skills that good political and organizational leaders learn is how to aim at a larger goal than immediate self-interest—like winning the next election or advancing a career—while still remaining in a position to act.
Politicians may not always be popular, but their ability to listen carefully to many sides of an issue, to find areas of common interest among them, to negotiate with their colleagues, and to hammer out compromises that move the ball forward are what make government work.
Legislators on Capitol Hill have taken steps for the first time in decades to return the postal service to solvency; pass a bipartisan gun bill—a step that would have been unthinkable a few years ago; boost health care and benefits to veterans exposed to toxins during military service; and pass the CHIPS Act, aimed at investing in cutting-edge technologies and innovations to strengthen US industrial, technological, and military capabilities.
While the argument over state vs. federal power is often couched in ideological terms, politicians and interest groups tend to view the question pragmatically. The question they ask is not where in an ideal world an issue should be resolved, but rather, where their position is most likely to prevail.
Congressional oversight determines whether the government and its employees are performing their jobs, compels executive branch officials to explain their policies and substantiate the reasoning that underlies them, and makes sure that government and the officials who run it are truly acting in the best interests of the nation.
What the hearings are doing is what congressional committees at their best have always done: focus on a complicated topic, present the facts about it to the American people, leave us all better informed than we were before, and possibly have an impact on how government operates.
There may be plenty of reason to worry about government’s effectiveness, but government must also be part of the solution.
The backbone of our system of representative democracy is its faith in ordinary Americans to step up to their responsibility as citizens to improve their corner of the world—by their own direct actions as well as by making discriminating judgments about politicians and policies.
Russia has plenty of problems on its plate and it’s unclear whether it has the forces, the time, or the will to expand the current conflict—but the West must be very plain that it would push back hard on any escalation.
In this day, can the Court regain some of the respect it’s lost among Americans at large?
It is an essential part of our representative democracy, offering all of us—the people who have the most at stake in who represents us in Washington and how they and other officials behave on our behalf—the chance to understand more fully what’s going on.
Ambitious politicians, always looking for an edge, have figured out how to navigate division: They use polarization to raise money from one group of potential supporters by attacking another group, and then goose election turnout by riling up their base.
In the end, we know what we stand for: personal liberty, justice, economic opportunity, a sense of morality in world affairs.
In the end, our country, its democracy, and the welfare of its citizens need constant tending; the long arc of our history has pointed toward justice, the rule of law, freedom of conscience, opportunity for all, and advancement of the greater good, but it requires never-ending work to get there.
While congress enjoys a rare occasion of bipartisanship regarding the crisis in Ukraine, the Biden administration must maintain cooperation with congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle to keep the peace at home.
If the only voters who really matter are a party’s true believers, then they’re the ones a politician will appeal to, avoiding any positions that might smack of moderation or compromise.
I favor a permanent committee on reform in Congress, one that is able, year after year, to work to improve the operations of Congress.
For over 200 years, through some very tough times, we’ve wrestled with the problem of how government should work in a democracy. We’ve persisted through economic turmoil, world wars, a terrible depression, and social and racial tumult.
President Biden is experienced in foreign affairs and has put together a competent, professional team that’s more interested in getting things done quietly than in tweeting about their plans.
The country’s founders entrusted Americans with a form of government that imposes the burden of safeguarding it not just for ourselves, but as a symbol of hope elsewhere—the notion that economic opportunity and political engagement are part and parcel of citizenship.
It’s worth remembering that government did not grow big by accident. It was pushed by a desire to address real problems, to respond to the demands of real people—both well-meaning and self-interested—and to meet the soaring visions of elected leaders.
All of us, ordinary citizens and politicians alike, have to restore in our lives a belief in the importance of the common good—to ask ourselves not what’s good for any one of us, or for our party or business or people who look like us, but what’s good for the country as a whole, in all its complexity and diversity.
When a district is drawn to make it easy for a particular party to win there, it means that politicians don’t need to appeal to a cross-section of the electorate; instead, they must win over “the base.” Which, not surprisingly, means that they focus on voters who are more extreme than the electorate in general.
The work of government—not just at the federal level, but in our states, counties, and cities and towns—is to find ways of promoting what’s good and mitigating what’s bad.
Policies that continue to encourage fossil-fuel exploration and extraction, for instance, simply exacerbate the climate change that underlies many of the world’s worst problems.
All of them are a reminder that building a democracy is a process, with multiple steps along the way. So, for that matter, is safeguarding it.
The young people I’ve met are, for the most part, deeply concerned about the future of the country. They can be sharply critical, but it’s clear that most of them take a fundamental pride in what this nation stands for and how far it’s traveled over the centuries.
At its heart, the American system—our representative democracy—is about how we resolve our differences in order to move our towns and cities, states, and the country as a whole forward.
Twenty years on, the bigger question is whether, as a result of the 9/11 Commission’s work, the nation is better prepared to deal with terrorist threats.
We cannot address our country’s problems unless we work together.
People find a myriad of interesting—and sometimes idiosyncratic—reasons for voting this way or that.
I am constantly amazed at how much time, energy, and effort some people put into denying other people the right to vote. This is a battle, and those of us who believe that the health of our democracy rests on ensuring fair, equal, and unfettered access to the ballot box for all eligible voters have our work cut out for us.
These days, pretty much everything gets thrown into huge omnibus bills with hundreds of provisions, which tends to concentrate power in the hands of leadership and make it very difficult for ordinary members to have an impact.
Not surprisingly, the forces of globalization generate benefits, challenges, and difficult problems, all of which must be confronted, often simultaneously.
On the whole, international power is less concentrated and more widely distributed, which presents challenges to global institutions and makes it more difficult to pursue much-needed reforms within them.
As a democracy, the United States is stronger when as many people as possible can vote and the electorate reflects the actual makeup of the population.
Our ability to discern and act on what’s in our common interest depends on believing that we, as Americans, all have something in common.
Sustaining our democracy is hard work and its vitality depends on each of us—not just to participate, but to make the effort to understand and talk to people we don’t agree with, and to do our best to discern the facts on which all genuine progress relies.
Proposals in front of Congress should be able to get a full debate and an up-or-down vote in which Americans’ elected representatives make clear where they stand.
What may be the biggest test of all has less to do with policy priorities and the specifics of legislation than with whether Washington can move forward on challenges that matter to the American people.
Caution in all its forms should be key to the Biden administration’s approach: restoring deliberation to how we conduct our affairs, avoiding wars and military intervention, making certain that we husband our natural and human resources and do not waste our words, prestige, and other assets on quixotic pursuits.