Where’s stalemate when we need it?
The other day, by a vote of 97-1 in the Senate and 348-77 in the House, Congress overrode President Obama’s veto of a bill that was almost wholly without merit, something availing us nothing but sacrificing a lot.
It nevertheless had great appeal. If you didn’t like it, the voters would not like you, and so we had a barrage of bipartisan hugs like you could never imagine. It was not the kind of bipartisanship you want and certainly not democracy at its best.
The idea of a republic is that we vote for representatives whose political philosophy is similar to our own, who are competent and who have character. If disappointed in their performance, we vote them out of office. But these representatives do not serve us well when they vote a certain way to help their re-election chances even as they know they could be doing the nation harm.
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No doubt, some of those voting in favor of this measure did think it was a good idea, but most had to know it was not. The measure would allow relatives of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack to sue the Saudi Arabian government on the assumption that it colluded in what happened. To people who know little more than that, it might strike them as horrific that our government would not allow the lawsuits to take place.
Those in the know, however, say Saudi Arabia almost certainly did not collude with the terrorists and that, even if it did, proving it would be almost impossible. The plaintiffs will get nothing. The lawyers? Hmmm.
The bigger reason to object is that if citizens here can sue foreign governments, citizens of foreign governments could soon be suing us. Our government could be hit over and over again on charges of such matters as war crimes, it is said. Diplomatic relations could be strained. Information that needs to remain secret for security’s sake could be released. International relations could suffer a hit that is hardly needed.
President Obama spelled out the problems, if not in a particularly loud voice, but even his own Democratic party would not stick with him in the Senate except for one person — Harry Reid, who is not running for re-election.
Interestingly, Reid, as Senate majority leader was very much a stalemate kind of guy. Though not well known, the Senate under his guidance was the winner over the House in rejecting measures sent to it by the other body.
When the Senate killed some of these bills, even some Democrats snarled, but Reid was doing the bidding of the president, who himself gladly deserted his constitutional duty of getting congressional approval on some measures he has addressed instead with unilateral executive orders. Deserting the rule of law is no small thing — it is, in fact, one of the worst things a president can do.
Stalemate, however, is not always a bad thing. And it is not always a matter of disagreeing representatives and senators putting re-election before the national need. Sometimes it is a matter of heeding important principles neither side will give in on. Even then, of course, compromise could often be possible on crucial matters if both sides didn’t put politics first.
It is a good thing to have both a liberal and a conservative party that both subscribe to basic tenets of our American creed. Each ideology can go too far or not far enough, causing the members of Congress to clash, step back, reconsider and to try to work things out, which can be for the public good. The resulting legislation can often be something better than if one point of view was all it represented.
In the case of this particular bill, there was no stalemate in getting it passed, and differences mostly went out the window in the vote to override the veto. They went out the window for the wrong reasons, however, illustrating that unity can be as much a farce as disunity.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.
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