Something has changed in the last 30 years, so lets praise outgoing New York Congressman Gary Ackerman, Democrat, for recognizing that change. Were used to saying that politicians are out of touch. Its refreshing to see one still cognizant of everyday reality.
But thats as far as we can go. For Rep. Ackerman, in his exit interview with Josh Tyrangiel of Bloomberg Businesweek, didnt just recognize the obvious. He espoused a theory about that change . . . and a more complacent, self-serving, self-justifying theory could hardly be imagined.
Whats changed is todays political polarization, which has led to a lack of comity in Congress. Well, yes. We see less go-along/get-along today; partisanship has revved up, ideological disagreement, increased. It used to be you had real friends on the other side of the aisle. Its not like that anymore, says Ackerman. Society has changed. Im not at all certain this is a horrible development, but Ackerman assumes it is. But hey: Lets agree to disagree on how bad the situation is. For a moment. Whats the cause?
Well, Ackermans society has changed line tips his hand to where hes going with this:
I think the people have gotten dumber. I dont know that I wouldve said that out loud pre-my announcement that I was going to be leaving. [Laughter] But I think thats true.
Yes. Blame the people. They must have gotten dumber, because fewer and fewer people seem to respect the boffo job Ackermans been doing all these years.
Theres been a big shift in political opinion, and thats the nose-on-your face-obvious reality underlying Ackermans complaint. In his early days in Washington, there was ideological disagreement, sure, but the right made deals with the left (which was, in a sense, merely the establishment — the real left wasnt in power). The famous case was Ronald Reagans entente with Tip ONeill: Reagan would get to spend oodles more on the military, and ONeill could keep social spending levels up. Sure, the social spending growth rate tapered off a bit, but there was little actual cutting.