During my time in Congress, Republicans and Democrats had a large moderate base while the ideological factions dwelled on the fringes. Now they are dominant in both parties and influence their respective agendas on Capitol Hill.
TWO years ago, I was in Beijing with a delegation of former congressmen, meeting with top government officials. It was a typical setting, they on one side, we on the other, starting with formal greetings before getting into the trade and security issues important to the bilateral relationship.
As we were winding down the discussion, the recurring question on the China side was, “The ‘House of Cards,’ is this a correct portrayal of how things work in your country?”
“Absolutely no way,” was the unanimous response from the veteran lawmakers, who had 100 years of combined experience in Washington, D.C. Our responses echoed what each of us felt. “We are a country of principles and values, a Constitution that protects our democratic norms and transparency.”
As we were rushing off to the next meeting, each of us was perplexed that Hollywood would portray our government in a way that was unethical and totally unrealistic. This is not a message we should be sending to China and other nations.
Look where we are today. We are not only abandoning our role as a global leader, but we are losing the respect that was well earned from other nations for the past 100 years.
On our next China trip, the question will be: “What the hell happened in your country?” I will try to explain in this way:
First, our political system is dysfunctional. Even with the Republicans in full control of both the executive and legislative branches, they cannot deliver on issues near and dear to their hearts. The Trump administration has been ever boastful but ineffective, and the Congress is struggling with ideological forces it cannot control.
When I served in Congress, the political landscape was different from what we see today. At that time Republicans and Democrats had a large moderate base, while the ideological factions dwelled on the fringes. Now they are dominant in both parties and influence their respective agendas on Capitol Hill. This is not the right prescription for good governance.
Traditionally, the two political parties have been the bedrock of our democracy. Not anymore. Both political parties nationally are inconsequential for two reasons. First, it’s money, not party loyalty, that is a candidate’s priority. We helplessly stand by as hundreds of millions pour into congressional coffers that influence the outcome, even when it’s contrary to our national interests.
It’s also the special interests. In my last statewide race, I endured a number of interviews by organizations and special interests who wanted to lock me into positions on a host of issues important to them. Same on the Republican side — the NRA, anti-abortion and anti-Planned Parenthood, never tax increases — that will have candidates beholden to them, which is contrary to the art of legislating.
Second, America is lacking in leadership, globally and nationally. We see this on display daily. You cannot govern by tweets and attacks. Past occupants of the White House have been committed to unifying the country. Now the emphasis is on dividing our nation.
Obviously, China and other nations are both captivated and dismayed by what they see happening in America today — a New York business tycoon whose message resonates with Midwest working-class voters. He is neither a party man nor an ideologue. His presidential manner aligns more closely with authoritarian rulers than democratically-elected leaders. Is this the America we have come to cherish?
Is there any hope for the future? Is there an alternative who can make a difference — a proven leader who has experience in dealing with tough and complex issues in a diversified society, can rise above politics, ideology and special interests, someone known to be honest, pragmatic and highly capable?
On my next China trip, the expectant question will be, “Who is your preferred choice to be the next president of the United States.” My answer would be, “Michael Bloomberg.”