What national goals should be converted to mandates and pursued relentlessly through Executive Branch executive orders and its regulatory agency rules? In other words, which goals should bypass Congressional scrutiny and therefore representative democracy?
Relatedly, are there subjects that should be given oxygen and ultimately better understanding through Congressional hearings? Which is to say hearings aimed more at findings than advocacy.
Much of today’s political activity recalls several of our dogs in day’s past falling into the water and frantically swimming, almost catapulting themselves to get back on terra firma. While our labradors enjoyed water under foot, others didn’t. Too many politicians can only maintain their footing on their dogma.
I recently watched the Netflix movie, Don’t Look Up. The movie is dark satire about the impending implosion of the earth due to climate change. The storyline is that a Michigan State scientist and his doctoral candidate have calculated that a quite large comet will strike the earth in six months and cause earth-ending destruction.
The pair travel to Washington to convince the President, a witless female played by Meryl Streep, that she must take immediate action to divert the comet. Among other, often hilarious insults, the Michigan State pair was dismissed because they weren’t from an Ivy League school.
The movies’ narrative assumption was that the populous was not prepared to believe unassailable evidence—they were wallowing in pleasure and the thoughtless twitch culture. Long term, for them, is a three minute Tik Tok production.
So let me reflect on the filmmakers concern, climate change. Today there are two centers of gravity on climate change. First there are those who are certain the earth (we) are on the road to destruction. The second either doesn’t believe or doesn’t know what to believe about the road we are on.
This binary thinking is dangerous because it leads to abrupt dismissal of each other’s opinions—on an existential issue. Where does a democracy go when one school of thought wants to end the use of fossil fuels and the other school wants gas freely available for a price that doesn’t exceed expectations? President Biden, who is generally believed to embrace the first school of thought, recently raided the oil reserve to expand supply and lower prices. The reality of today’s politics swells with hypocrisy; a hot-house gas that breeds cynicism.
In a democracy, people need to be informed about urgent and far-reaching goals. But when it comes to climate change and the trillions of dollars necessary to make a real difference in greenhouse gases, big moves are hidden in enormous omnibus bills or agency regulations ordered up by the White House.
So, what if Congress stripped climate related legislation out of the massive Build Back Better legislative package and spotlighted climate legislation in regional and national hearings? Would this be constructive?
I’m hesitant to forecast how many more people would be better informed. But, it is my guess that when 2022 fades into 2023 such a move could be on the list of best Congressional actions of the previous year. And, the mid-term electorate might just be better informed.
Given Congresses standing today, those who seek office to be a Member of America’s most important institution should demand the return of the necessary practices of representative government. Likewise voters should put the health of the Congress at the top of their list of national objectives.
Relatedly, when it comes to White House edicts, they set up inevitable court actions claiming the order should be reversed. These clashes, with inevitable winner and loser narratives, portray the Supreme Court as a political combatant rather than a constitutional arbiter. Not a good place for the Supreme Court to be.
Both political parties contend endlessly on how this or that policy change or appropriation will lead to nirvana. Leaders, and especially Congressional ones, should concentrate on reforming Congress and facilitating representative government. At this point there are only two co-equal branches of government.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.