Valuing Person Over Party

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In the midst of the rare chorus lauding President Trump’s decision to order missile strikes on a Syrian air base, it was easy to miss an equally noteworthy news item last Friday: Judge Neil Gorsuch is now a Supreme Court justice.

Gorsuch, who by most reasonable standards is an eminently qualified jurist and well deserving to sit on the nation’s highest bench, made it only by virtue of the Senate blowing up what was left of the hallowed tradition known as the filibuster. Democrats — smarting from the refusal of Republicans to even hold hearings on the nomination by then-President Obama of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court last year — used the procedure to prevent a vote on Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to the same seat left vacant when Justice Antonin Scalia suddenly died on Feb. 13, 2016.

Because they lacked the necessary 60 votes to invoke “cloture” and end debate, Republicans — borrowing a tactic the Democrats used in 2013 to change the rules and outlaw the filibuster on all executive appointments except Supreme Court picks — went nuclear and drove another nail into the filibuster’s coffin. Now all that’s needed is a simple majority in the 100-seat chamber to approve a presidential nomination.

Think Congress, which in the last decade has reached historically low levels of productivity, will finally get things done?

Think again.

Far from streamlining the arcane parliamentary rules that have governed the Senate for ages so that the people’s representatives can get back to the people’s business, this latest volley in the partisan warfare that has consumed Capitol Hill for years will only make things worse. Washington, D.C., has traded brinksmanship for the far worse policy of total annihilation, and if history is a guide, even less will get accomplished in the years ahead.

According to figures tabulated by GovTrack.us and InsideGov, Congresses governed by the same party in both the House and the Senate — and especially when the majority party also occupies the White House — are some of the least productive in the modern era. The 111th Congress, for instance, which sat from 2009 to 2011 and was governed solely by the Democrats, only passed 385 laws, far from the more than 700 bills that is the average. The 109th Congress, which sat from 2005 to 2007 and enjoyed a Republican monopoly of the legislative and executive branches of government, only passed 483.

And now that Republicans are once again in total control? It’s reasonable to assume that the failure last month to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, despite the full-court press of President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), portends continued congressional inaction.

But rather than blame one party over the other, or particular combinations of party rule, perhaps a deeper issue is at play here. If our representatives are reflections of ourselves, perhaps they too have lost the ability to put personhood over party identification, principle over politics.

There was a time, not so long ago, when politicians could sit down and break through the partisan noise to pass legislation of substance. Such was a slew of Congresses in the 1970s and ’80s. But today, I doubt whether they have it in them anymore.

For that matter, I wonder if we — and I mean us as Jews as much as I mean us as Americans — have it in us anymore, if we have the ability to see each other for who we truly are, instead of the opinions we broadcast like so many T-shirts, bumper stickers and Facebook rants.

In a couple of days, we’ll celebrate the end of Pesach, which commemorates the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and the completion of the Exodus from Egypt. It’s a wholly joyous thing to celebrate. But Jewish tradition holds that four fifths of our people got left behind in Egypt. Later on in our history, the united commonwealth that held under Kings David and Solomon split, leading to the dispersion of the 10 northern Tribes of Israel. Most of them were lost forever.

The fact is, we are the remnant of a remnant. Can you imagine what the Jewish world would be like today if those excisions hadn’t happened? And yet, because of differences among us, there is a steady movement afoot — on both right and left, and especially over matters dealing with Israel — to denigrate the other as the enemy and to say, “We’re better off without you.”

For me, in times of divisiveness, I’d rather stress those things which unite us. And in the interest of actually accomplishing things — like, say, ensuring the Jewish future of our children and grandchildren — I’d rather set aside those issues where we don’t agree and focus instead on those issues where we do.

Bottom line, being a Jew means so much more than the positions you take. And the ultimate expression of that identity can be seen when you’re bringing someone in instead of pushing her away. Capitol Hill can deal with gridlock. The Jewish people shouldn’t have to.

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]