Opinion: Restore Congress by putting people before party

T. Robinson Ahlstrom

The American people need and deserve a functioning government now.  For that reason, it is imperative that when the 117th Congress is gaveled into session, a bipartisan caucus of serious lawmakers is formed and functioning. (The recent work of the Problem Solvers provides a good model.)

Whatever the outcome of the Georgia runoff elections, both House and Senate will be pretty evenly split. In a Congress of  535 members, 20  women and men drawn equally from both parties, could, with a president who is competent, moderate and artful in compromise, effectively govern these United States.

For too long, lawmakers from both legacy political societies have retreated from anything remotely akin to statesmanship, Ahlstrom writes.

By putting policy above politics and country before career, 20 women and men, working with a president who has announced his intention to reach across the aisle, could work to end the pandemic, resuscitate the economy, redress structural racial inequities, rebuild America’s antique infrastructure, transition the nation to clean and cost-effective energy and restore America’s moral leadership throughout the world. 

It will only take 20.

America’s problems are not unsolvable. They remain unsolved because the civic spirit has which has been a hallmark of our national success has devolved into an orgy of hyper-partisan jousting and gamesmanship. The greatest obscenity of the past four years has been the de-moralizing of America.

Nothing is more bipartisan than partisanship. For too long, too many elected lawmakers from both legacy political societies have retreated from anything remotely akin to statesmanship. That said, by nominating someone they knew to be entirely unfit for high office, the GOP opened a Pandora’s box.

Millions of Americans have watched with utter disbelief as the party of Lincoln bartered its glorious birthright for a toxic brew of populism, nativism and know-nothingism. The GOP’s precipitous descent has caused many to suggest that perhaps it is time to form a new center-right party. It is not such a time. The last thing America needs today is another political party.

Whether the GOP requires a tent revival or a graveside service is a matter for those who have broken it, and who now own it, it to decide. It is not an issue of any national import. Let the dead bury the dead.

Political parties are inherently inimical to kind of national unity times like these require. George Washington warned that they tend “to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.” He argued that the very “spirit of party” is something a wise people must “discourage and restrain.”

President-elect Biden has issued a call to Congress to come together and work together to bind up the nation’s wounds, restore the nation’s economy and rejoin the glorious pursuit of that more perfect union.        

The need of the hour is not merely bipartisanship. It is nonpartisanship. We need twenty women and men who understand what “public service” means and who accept an engraved invitation from the new president to rise to their oath of office, to do their duty and to serve their country. If, together, they resolve that “The era of dysfunctional government is over,” no bill could be passed without them. No landmark success would be beyond their reach.

It should be called The Commonwealth Caucus because its first principle would be that America was intended to be and can yet become a true commonwealth — a “beloved community” woven together by a social contract that is just and inclusive of all the inhabitants of the land.

Biden rightly claimed that this election was all about “restoring the soul of the nation.” More than 80 million Americans agreed. Are there 20 among the 535 citizens honored to serve in the 117th Congress who will rise to the occasion and clothe themselves with honor?

T. Robinson Ahlstrom is chairman of the George Washington Scholars Endowment.