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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Choosing civility over principle assures the DC swamp wins every time

It’s a particularly relevant question these days but doesn’t draw much notice from the establishment media: Is it important that our politicians speak nicely to each other?

President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address was a week ago yet commentators can’t quit buzzing about the Democrats’ absurd behavior during the hour and twenty minute oration. Democrats’ stone-faced and silent sitting protests didn’t go unnoticed by the American public – at least the roughly half favoring SOTU civilitythe Republican Party or calling themselves “independent”. The release of the Nunes memo last Friday only stirred things up further. Confidence in government institutions has eroded to practically zero…it’s ugly.

Regularly seeing congressmen and senators savaging each other on cable news isn’t improving the atmosphere in Washington -- there isn’t much geniality in Congress these days. But is it important to always be civil to each other?

Apparently members of the Supreme Court think so. Melissa Quinn reported at the Washington Examiner, “Along with the president, justices on the Supreme Court on at least two separate and unrelated occasions in as many weeks spoke to the need for civility. Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, during a speech at Stockton University in New Jersey last week, and again by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who sits on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum from Gorsuch, in two different events.

“The calls for civility from the justices come at a time of heightened partisanship, particularly in the nation's capital, where it didn’t take long for Democrats to criticize the president’s address as ‘divisive’ and ‘appalling.’

“’Someday, I hope we will get back to the way it was,’ Ginsburg told a crowd at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island during an event Tuesday. ‘I think it will take great leaders on both sides of the aisle to say, ‘Let’s stop this nonsense and start working for the country the way we should.’”

It’s curious how Ginsburg is the one calling for a political truce because she said before the 2016 election that she didn’t think Donald Trump was fit to be president. It’s doubtful Ginsburg’s changed her mind in the interim – after all, she is a liberal – but maybe all the rancor of late melted her icy progressive heart.

Of course about a year ago this time Gorsuch was at the epicenter of a massive partisan tug-of-war (he was officially nominated on January 31). Democrats were so determined to prevent his senate confirmation they took the unprecedented step of forcing Republicans to go “nuclear” on filibusters for Supreme Court nominees.

Needless to say there wasn’t much “civility” in Democrat senators’ probing the would-be justice over his personal philosophies and past decisions they claimed were discriminatory and harmful to the common man. Gorsuch’s character wasn’t dragged through the mud like Clarence Thomas’s was in the early nineties yet the inquisition still left a stain on the institution’s soul as minority party senators went trash bin diving for damaging labels to stick to Gorsuch – and then voted nearly unanimously against him when they didn’t find any.

In their respective speeches both Ginsburg and Gorsuch touched on the civility and friendliness justices enjoy in the Supreme Court building (which of course is right across the street from Congress). The jurists suggested they could agree to disagree in the course of their work and still have dinner together afterwards, as if donning long black robes and poring over legal precedents all day naturally puts an amiability spell on a person.

It should be that way – Supreme Court justices don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone (except themselves). They’re on the Court for life or until they choose to step down. Their decisions impact millions but they hardly ever see the effects of anything they do. Justices don’t need to stand for reelection or raise money for campaigning; they rarely go on TV or get called out by name by a pundit class questioning their character and motivations and once confirmed they pretty much disappear willingly down a media black hole.

Their daily lives are quite mundane when compared with those occupying the marble structures all around them. As of now they don’t permit cameras in the Supreme Court chamber and their deliberations are entirely private, well away from scrutiny. What’s not to like? Why would anyone need to be anything less than civil when the biggest conflict you’re likely to encounter on any given day is a dispute over jargon in a case opinion?

Politics is a different animal entirely and so are the people who populate the elected branches. Politicians are constantly under the media’s blinding glare and when they’re not going on TV to try and steer public opinion they’re listening to angry constituents griping about something they’ve done or not done.

And that’s the way it should be. Citizen participation in a republic is vital to its health. There’s nothing more threatening to the concept of republican government than a complacent and ignorant voting public. People don’t know much about what the Supreme Court does on a day-to-day basis – maybe if Americans did the justices would stop being so “civil” to each other and battle a little more.

We may not always like it but politicians should disagree and stand up for their beliefs when called upon. Graciousness is a good thing but by nature the democratic process isn’t civil – it’s difficult to draw distinctions between yourself and your opposition without pointing out the obvious differences. It doesn’t mean you should resort to slander but emphasizing that the other side is stonewalling the legislative process isn’t an uncalled for proposition – at least for Republicans.

Besides, “bipartisanship” and “civility” often leads to bad outcomes. Take what’s happening with immigration lately. Josh Seigel of the Washington Examiner reported on yet another two-party bite at the apple, “Sens. John McCain, R., Ariz. and Chris Coons, D., Del., plan to unveil a proposal that offers a path to citizenship for young immigrants known as ‘Dreamers’ who have lived in the U.S. since Dec. 31, 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported. That is expected to be a larger group than would be covered by President Trump’s proposal to provide legal status to 1.8 million young immigrants...

“The bipartisan Senate bill also orders a comprehensive study to determine border-security measures to implement. It would provide a $110 million annual grant for five years to improve coordination between border-patrol agents and state and local law-enforcement officials.

“It would call for hiring 55 new immigration court judges annually for three years, to clear a backlog of asylum cases. And it would order the State Department to provide a three-year strategy to help Central American countries address the causes of illegal immigration to the U.S., such as drug and gang violence.”

In other words, Republican McCain and Democrat Coons recommend the so-called “Dreamers” be given citizenship immediately (a timetable doesn’t appear to be included) while the rest of the matter is kicked to the side in favor of yet another federal “study” (Seriously? FIVE years?) concerning border security measures -- and the government would hire more judges to deal with asylum claims…big deal.

As far as I can tell McCain’s and Coons’ bill only deals with one of President Trump’s four “pillars” necessary for an immigration agreement. Do the authors actually believe that one, this plan has a ghost of a chance of passing both houses of Congress and two, it would then be signed into law by a president who campaigned on not only addressing the illegal immigration problem but permanently solving it?

This type of pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking doesn’t match political reality today. Most of the lawmakers in McCain’s party aren’t interested in granting citizenship under any circumstances much less trading it for the promise of a “study” -- and no building of a wall, no reforming chain migration, no end to the senselessly stupid politically correct visa lottery and no implementation of a merit-based immigration system going forward.

Meanwhile most members of Coons’ party don’t give a hoot about anything except legalizing and granting precious American citizenship to the “Dreamers” now. To heck with the rest of Trump’s proposals – they won’t vote for them. All the “civility” in the world isn’t going to get Democrats to budge when they’ve got political axes to grind at the feet of Donald Trump.

And “civility” is in the eye of the beholder, too. Another item on Trump’s SOTU wish list was paid federal family leave, something that’s being pushed primarily by daughter Ivanka. The Trumps may have even found a former rival to work with them on the proposal.

Seung Min Kim of Politico reported, “Marco Rubio is starting to strategize with Ivanka Trump to win over skeptical Republicans on a traditionally Democratic issue: paid family leave.

“Capitalizing on President Donald Trump’s endorsement of the idea in his State of the Union address, Rubio is trying to marshal Republicans behind a plan that would neither impose a mandate on employers nor raise taxes to pay for it — two hurdles that have long halted the GOP from embracing paid family leave.

“’We still have to work on members of my own party,’ Rubio said in an extended interview with POLITICO about his effort. ‘I think there will be significant initial resistance to it, because it’s just not an issue that’s been identified with the Republican Party.’”

The reason for Republicans’ hesitation is federal family leave smells like another feel-good expensive boondoggle that has nothing to do with the government’s constitutional role and will likely end up costing taxpayers billions more than the politicians initially estimated.

Normally Democrats would be falling over themselves to grant another federal welfare-type entitlement but are they likely to work with the Trumps – and Rubio -- when they finally realize doing so would give the president and his favorite child a very visible political victory? Call me skeptical but the answer is a resounding “no.”

Rubio promotes the idea as part of a “softer side of conservatism” argument. Doesn’t this description contain echoes of a Bush-ian “kinder, gentler nation” and “compassionate conservatism?” Real limited government conservatism is neither unkind nor uncompassionate. The Constitution allows for individual states to set up such programs if they so choose. Why get the nearly bankrupt federal government involved?

Why not just be for everything? That’s the “civil” way to go…but it will only make things worse in this country.

More civility in politics would be a good thing but it also has its limitations. If lawmakers care more about being nice to each other than they do about advocating for their constituents the battle is already lost; there would be many chummy politicians in DC but hardly any happy Americans.

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