In his new book, “The Land of Flickering Lights: Restoring America in an Age of Broken Politics,” Colorado’s Sen. Michael Bennet relates five situations he experienced first-hand of “Washington’s do-nothing calendar,” legislative and executive actions which have prevented Americans from leading the lives that America’s values should make possible.
All, Bennet writes, failed to take place because of combinations of partisanship, the power of an extreme minority and the failure to consider longterm needs and consequences.
Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who is opposed to compromise; the tea party (“which used government shutdowns and debt-ceiling showdowns to their highly divisive factional will”); and Ted Cruz, who grandstanded for the 16-day government shutdown, are particularly criticized. Bennet is blunt in finding fault.
With the 60-vote requirement in the U.S. Senate gone, judicial nominations, including for the Supreme Court, can now be expected to be fully partisan, Bennet argues: While the Republicans put forward their judges, the Democrats will do the same when their turn in power comes.
The work of the Gang of Eight to create immigration reform was brought to a halt by narrow Republican opposition, which felt it was better to wait for full victory – whenever that might be – than to accept any compromise. Citizens United allows corporations, with their funding hidden, to be far more influential in elections than single donors; President Trump’s tax cut, which is doing more for high-wealth individuals and corporations than for low-income taxpayers, and is adding to the nation’s deficits and debt, had no legislative hearings.
And, there is the president’s unilateral decision to abandon the multi-country agreement which was limiting Iran’s nuclear weapon development. Not a perfect agreement, Bennet writes, which might have included more stringent requirements, but likely the best which could have been written and critical to the stability of the Middle East and to the world. (It was Iraq which provided the counterbalance to Iran, and when that was gone, with the U.S.’s attack and the chaos which followed, Iran’s political and religious initiatives were free to spread across borders.)
While decision-making in Washington is often wildly faulty, Bennet cites examples of his relationships with his Colorado constituents at townhalls and during his time as Denver’s school superintendent, which were civil and included productive exchanges (other than when the issue was school closings).
Income inequality, which is growing, is uppermost on Bennet’s mind. Multiple charts show how that is climbing to the detriment of all but a few Americans.
Referring to the debates and uncertainties which took place as this country tried to form its government in the 1770s and beyond, Bennet accepts that good government is always a work in progress and requires the involvement of all.
Reconstructing Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms of 1941, Bennet adds freedom to rise (upward mobility in income and satisfaction), freedom to earn (for a lifetime), freedom from violence (an improved criminal justice system) and freedom to govern ourselves (end voter suppression and practice civil disagreement).
Want to read more about today’s and tomorrow’s worldly issues and thoughtful solutions? Bennet includes a reading list of his favorites.
“Flickering Lights” contrasts Washington’s failed decisions during Michael Bennet’s 10 years in the Senate with the hopes and promises which require all of us to work for them in collaborative, willing-to-compromise national settings. It is a good read.