This week’s Courier Herald column:
With the celebration of Independence day, the great experiment that is America has been running for two hundred and forty years strong. It hasn’t always been easy. It didn’t even happen all at once. In between the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution there was war and a few awkward years under Articles of Confederation.
The adoption of the Constitution in 1787 sealed the form of government we’ve operated under in what has become the “shining city on a hill”. But with the wisdom of the document came a warning. When Ben Franklin was asked what had been produced from the closed door meeting that resulted in our framework, he replied “A republic, if you can keep it.”
The Fourth of July is one of the days that Americans still demonstrate unity and common purpose. The other days of the year it is getting harder and harder. Viewed through the lens of modern politics, one would wonder if we see our fellow Americans as friend or foe. Our rhetoric and vitriol espoused in the permanent modern campaigns would lead us to conclude that crossing the political aisle to work with the other party is more akin to treason than colluding with other nations that mean America harm.
Yet, at the same time, there is growing evidence that the American public is growing tired of the permanent gridlock where promises exceed action. We Americans have enjoyed a recent history of enjoying the paradox. We want action, but we don’t want anyone working with the folks we disagree with. Unless, of course we get what we want. Or, ideally, what we need.
Senator Johnny Isakson has never had a problem going against the grain. He’s never been a guy to throw out red meat applause lines. He’s also never had an issue working across the aisle. Rather than a perpetual appeal to those that want an outsider, Isakson quietly goes about his business with the understanding that only 99 others share the insider position he has held for 12 years.
That time has allowed him to build both seniority and relationships. It has enabled him to gain the chairmanship of the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee.
The VA, as any causal observer is aware, is rife with problems. Veterans are literally dying while waiting for care. The agency often gives the appearance it is run to serve the bureaucrats it employs rather than to deliver care to those who put their life and health on the line in order to help us keep our republic. It’s perhaps one of the greatest embarrassments of our current federal government. Comprehensive change is required.
While the need can often easily be identified, consensus is not. Isakson assumed chairmanship of the committee a year and a half ago. Problems have been analyzed and a path forward for the VA has been drafted as the Veterans First Act. It passed the Senate VA Committee unanimously in may. That’s correct. Unanimously.
I spoke with Senator Isakson a couple of weeks before the committee vote. At the time, he was one vote short of having all members of his committee in favor. He knew the signal a bill with unanimous committee support would have in helping the bill not only navigate passage from the Senate as a whole, but also in seeking concurrent approval from the House and the White House. It required him listening and adapting the bill to address all legitimate concerns. It also required persuasion that all involved remain attentive to the underlying issue.
In raw terms it meant that Senators from opposite sides of the political spectrum had to agree. It may not be that unusual to have Isakson and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia agree on a bill. Take that same bill and get Republican Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont on board? That’s an accomplishment.
Our Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution seem to be a homogenous group judged by today’s standards, but represented a diverse coalition of thought for their day. They put aside differences of large vs small states and of industrial city residents vs rural yeoman farmers.
They instead focused on what brought them together, and created a nation that has been going 240 years strong. If we are to continue to keep it, we’re going to need more of our elected representatives to find common purpose with those that they disagree.