More than 130 retired lawmakers sing the Coffee-Party song

A group of former senators and congresspeople, alarmed and embarrassed by the degeneration of American politics since their retirement, have issued an open letter which could have been written by Coffee Partisans. The key paragraphs:

Congress appears gripped by zero-sum game partisanship. The goal often seems to be more to devastate the other side (the enemy, no longer the honorable adversary) than to find common ground to solve problems, much less to have a spirited but civil debate about how to do so.

The divisive and mean-spirited way debate often occurs inside Congress is encouraged and repeated outside: on cable news shows, in blogs and in rallies. Members who far exceed the bounds of normal and respectful discourse are not viewed with shame but are lionized, treated as celebrities, rewarded with cable television appearances, and enlisted as magnets for campaign fund-raisers.

Meanwhile, lawmakers who try to address problems and find workable solutions across party lines find themselves denigrated by an angry fringe of partisans, people unhappy that their representatives would even deign to work with the enemy. When bipartisan ideas are advanced, they are met by partisan derision.

In a politically diverse but ultimately centrist nation, it is axiomatic that the country’s major problems are going to have to be solved through compromises worked out between the parties. That’s especially the case for the problems that require tough solutions – like convincing taxpayers to endure some short-term pain for the promise of long-term fiscal stability. That will require partisans on both sides to give ground on some of their cherished beliefs, to lose some traction on a “wedge issue” that can be used in campaigns against the other side, in order to find the broad coalition necessary to make a policy work.

As Charles Pope of The Oregonian observed,

The retired members of Congress in the group were no shrinking pacifists when it came to politics. Among the signers was George Nethercutt of Washington state, who in 1994 defeated House Speaker Tom Foley and rode into Congress on the wave created by Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America.

On the other side, the letter carries the signatures of Patricia Schroeder, a former member from Colorado, and Tom Downey of New York. Both were known for their liberal views and for a willingness to fight hard.

Regrettably, the signatories include only one Texan–Martin Frost.

About Hamilton Richards

He retired in 2006 as a Senior Lecturer in Computer Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. These days he volunteers technical support for Citizens' Climate Lobby (Austin chapter), Common Ground for Texans, (, Integrity Texas (, Austin Rowing Club, and several friends.
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