Politics as Unusual

Sometimes when people find themselves disagreeing with each other constantly about virtually every detail of every potential solution to every problem they face, a clarifying moment comes along and lays everything out for them. For our government officials, Sept. 11 provided the most stunning clarifying moment in our nation’s history. Furthermore, the subsequent anthrax attacks, several of which have been targeted directly at Capitol Hill, have left us all with the realization that party affiliation is not significant when we are united against a foreign enemy. The fact that Senator Tom Daschle is a Democrat did not make an iota of difference to Americans when they learned that his office had been targeted or to the media when it came to covering the story. That is because the partisanship that has saturated American politics for so long has, at least for now, dissolved. Both the House and Senate are approving various new programs and relief packages at a rapid pace and in a nearly unanimous fashion. There are two very important questions that need to be considered here. First, is this new unity necessarily a good thing? Second, how long can we expect it to last?

Upon first glance, seeing bill after bill pass easily through Congress might seem like a good thing. The political gridlock we’ve seen over the past few years has produced an increasing and perhaps justified cynicism among Americans, particularly among people our age. Perhaps this new rush of feel-good solidarity is actually the beginning of a new political era, one in which the traditional fighting and bickering over policy areas like health care and education will give way to a more rational and subdued tone in Washington. If so, getting budgets or appropriations passed might not be such a big problem all of a sudden. We should question, however, whether this would be a good thing.

The founding fathers never intended the passage of a budget or the enactment of new laws to be an easy process. Their fear was of a repressive majority excluding minority viewpoints from being heard, and the thought of having no differing opinions would have been equally horrifying to them. The truth is that we need a diversity of opinion in this country. Since the attacks, there have been several unanimous votes in Congress on bills that under normal circumstances may have been controversial. There were likely several legislators on every vote who would have voted “nay” if they had gone purely on principles, but the political capital that can be lost by voting against an overwhelming majority on a high- profile piece of legislation can sway them quite a bit. However, now that an economic stimulus package is being debated, the party lines are starting to show themselves once again, even as Congress is being targeted by bio-terrorists.

Although we can expect partisanship to resurface sooner rather than later on most issues, it is obvious that much of the political landscape has changed. Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain, perhaps the best-known Democrat and Republican in the Senate respectively, have each stated that after dispensing with Afghanistan, our next goal should be to infiltrate Iraq and end Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror. Because of Iraq’s vast supply of oil, this action would compromise the expansive international coalition we put together before striking Afghanistan. Whether or not you would support such an incursion, it is important to realize that if we do invade a country like Iraq, it could have serious implications for how we develop domestic policy. First off, it would necessitate the immediate commencement of oil exploration and eventually drilling in Alaska. We have been hearing from environmentalists about how drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (A.N.W.A.R.) would damage a fragile ecosystem. Although it is commendable that people would fight for such a cause, America simply does not have a choice right now. In truth, the A.N.W.A.R. is not some sort of faunal utopia. It is a vast tundral wasteland about the size of South Carolina, and pumping oil out of the ground up there would substantially reduce our dependence on foreign oil. We should also see an increase in government funding of research on hydrogen-powered automobiles and increased tax incentives for buying and owning gas-electric hybrid cars. If we reduce our oil consumption here at home, we won’t have to keep buying in bulk from oil-rich Middle Eastern nations that do not like us. Boosting domestic production while cutting consumption of oil will allow us to disassociate ourselves from the Middle East, which unfortunately for us seems to be the only place in the world that produces a steady stream of suicidal, America-hating terrorist madmen.

The coming weeks and months will be filled with adjustments for all of us, and there’s no exception for our lawmakers. Perhaps more so than any war we have ever fought, this one will have a dramatic impact on everyday life and domestic policy on privacy, energy, and individual freedom. Nearly unanimous support for the war here at home appears to be holding steady and continued support will be important as the mission continues. However, if our politicians feel boxed in by political pressure to appear united on domestic matters such as airline security, energy production and technological innovation, it is unlikely that the best solutions will be found and enacted. Who would have thought there could be a good argument for political dissent?

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