US Congress

Man, we could use another Richard Lugar or Lee Hamilton in Congress right now.

The opening of the Senate hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court demonstrates how much the absence of an honest broker respected on both sides of the aisle costs us.

That’s the role Lugar, a Republican U.S. senator, and Hamilton, a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, played for decades. Because they were trusted, they could keep people talking with each other and resolve differences.

It’s clear we now don’t have anyone doing that.

Watching the opening of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings was like driving by an ugly auto accident over and over and over again.

Republicans came to the hearings determined to push Kavanaugh over the top. They didn’t advance any argument much more sophisticated than “we have the votes” – largely because they didn’t have to. They do have the votes.

Democrats responded by turning the hearings into a prolonged infomercial about autocratic abuses of power and the erosion of the rule of law. Their thinking seemed to be that, if they had to sacrifice the nation’s highest court to their opponents, they were going to get something in return – a clear path to talk with America about where unchecked Republican rule was taking the country.

Both sides belittled each other for betraying the rules of civility, courtesy and the Senate.

(Trust me on this one, senators. You can skip the finger-pointing. There’s shame enough involved here for every one of you to own a piece.)

No better evidence could have been offered regarding how dysfunctional our government has become.

If the federal government were a marriage, it would be headed to a painful divorce right now.

We Americans did a trial separation once – in the 1860s. It didn’t go well. By the time the Civil War ended, nearly a quarter of an entire generation of American men had been killed. The wounds inflicted on the nation linger to this day.

The inertia of increasing incremental disrespect brought us to this point.

For the better of two centuries, the process for elevating justices to lifetime appointments on the nation’s highest court required something resembling consensus. That process couldn’t move forward without the consent of at least some members of the party in the minority, because judges were supposed to be fair to everyone and open to all points of view.

That has changed in the past couple generations.

When they were in power, both Democrats and Republicans grew frustrated with the work of persuading the minority party to go along with their judicial nominations – and enamored with the leverage unreasoning opposition gave them when they were not in the majority.

In a series of institutional reforms advanced by one party and then escalated, in turn, by the other, the Senate approved what was called the “nuclear option” – a waiver of the rules that dispenses with any need for consensus and allows the barest majority to place a justice on the high bench.

Now, the nuclear option has become the norm.

It’s as if jaywalking were used as a justification for mugging and then mugging for murder.

Together, the Republicans and the Democrats in the U.S. Senate will place a person on the U.S. Supreme Court who is perceived not as an independent interpreter of the nation’s fundamental laws, but as the equivalent of a party hack, nothing more than a patronage hustler.

Together, the Republicans and the Democrats in the U.S. Senate will have undermined confidence in what had been one of this country’s most revered institutions, the judicial branch.

Together, the Republicans and the Democrats in the U.S. Senate will have eroded confidence in the idea of law itself.

They didn’t set out to do this.

It happened because there apparently is no one in Congress with the maturity and detachment to ask, “If we do this, what happens next?” There apparently is no one who can persuade members of Congress to sit down and resolve their differences like rational human beings.

There apparently is no one in our great lawmaking bodies who is willing to be the adult in the room.

Man, we could use another Richard Lugar or Lee Hamilton in Congress right now.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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