Zócalo Public Square is a not-for-profit daily Ideas Exchange that blends digital humanities journalism and live events. We foster healthier, more cohesive communities by tackling important contemporary questions in an accessible, non-partisan, and broad-minded spirit.Then, who in the world is Mickey Edwards?
During Edwards’ sixteen years in Congress, he served variously on the House Budget and Appropriations committees and was the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He was also a member of the House Republican leadership, serving as the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, the party's fourth-ranking leadership position. In Edwards' first run in 1974, he was defeated by incumbent conservative Democratic Congressman John Jarman, who switched parties to the Republican party shortly before retiring. The next time around in 1976, Edwards beat GOP establishment candidate G. T. Blankenship, a local banker and oilman who was a former state attorney general and former Republican leader in the state House of Representatives, in the Republican primary, and defeated Democrat Tom Dunlap in the general election. Edwards served eight terms before being defeated for renomination by state Representative Ernest Istook, mostly because of Edwards' involvement in the House banking scandal.The next question, of course: what is Edwards doing in Arizona not quite three weeks before the 2012 general election? The most direct answer is that he is promoting his latest book, The Parties versus The People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans. A secondary answer is that Mr. Edwards gave a Zocalo Public Square talk on the subject, Are Political Parties Hurting Our Democracy?
A tertiary answer to the question appeared to be the case, even though Edwards denied it before anyone could suggest it. However, it seemed apparent to people who've been following the issue that Edwards intended to promote Paul Johnson's so-called Open Primary proposition (Prop121).
Because I am always interested in the underlying issues in, on, around or about any given situation, I have to explore what is beneath the surface. And so I did.
The former Congressman is a delightfully charming gentleman with an engaging presentation style. Having been an lecturer at Harvard as well as a Member of Congress, that should surprise nobody.
Edwards' premise was that the Founding Fathers warned against what we know today as political parties. Of course, they have not always been entrenched on opposing sides to a deathly serious game of who is right and who is wrong.
It's that entrenchment we see today as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (leader of the "loyal opposition") declaring in 2010 that his primary goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president.
There should be little question that, in general, the Democratic Party could demonstrate similar behavior IF they were in a similar situation as the Republicans are today. Edwards said that former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said her number one goal is and has been to get the most Democratic members elected to Congress.
That contrasts with what we SHOULD expect of both McConnell and Pelosi, which would be to do their utmost to solve America's problems working with all Members of Congress and the executive branch.
But is that what Democrats would do? Perhaps, but as much as Fock Snooze watching Americans hate Pelosi, when she had the opportunity -- some think a DUTY -- to impeach and prosecute George W Bush for egregious crimes she did not pursue that course of action.
Anyone would hard pressed to make a case that what George W Bush did, by deceiving Congress and the entire country into authorizing him to invade Iraq was done solely, or even PRIMARILY because of political parties or partisanship.
But I digress.
Edwards' premise, which he stated at the beginning of his talk, was that the partisan primary process did not emerge in our country until the late 1800s (that's NOT 1-800, as in toll free area code). He then told a few anecdotes which led him to jump overtly to suggesting that the only solution to a system that rewards (incentivizes) polarization is to remove the aspects of the system that promote polarization.
But he really glossed over complex factors that cannot rightfully be ignored when considering how to legitimately solve or begin to address problems with American public policy and lawmaking. In essentially one sentence, he said that he has a chapter in his book about money, but would not talk about it (last night). He spent a just little bit more time describing the absurdity of the Supreme Court ruling equating corporations with people. Absurd, of course, is a good starting place for discussion of that tidbit.
Edwards eloquently described how the concept of corporations was antithetical to them having the same rights as people. They were established in law to essentially protect their owners from liabilities and risks they would have if not organized as corporations. Which is also true.
Yet, when boiled down to its essence, Edwards' main point for the evening was that to get rid of the polarization, we have to eliminate partisan primaries. Only, he never really made a case for it. Neither did he address any specifics of the current proposal before Arizona voters.
The problem, he says, with partisan polarization is that nobody from one side will talk to anyone from the other. He reasoned that since Members of Congress are not allowed to talk to each other while on the floor of the House, they must go to a "cloak room." But there is a Republican cloak room and a Democrat cloak room. And never the twain shall meet.
However, when I search the internet, and more specifically the House.gov website, I found NO Democratic cloakroom. I'm not sure what that proves, or even means, but it really does not look to be equivalent on both "sides." At least the US Senate website provides a definition that matches Edwards' description.
Again, the key according to Edwards is that members from one political party do not work with the other party to develop legislation.
But I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out how Arizona's proposed jungle primary process will provide ANY more incentive for members of the Arizona Legislature to conduct themselves in a bipartisan manner.
Anyway, during the Q and A discussion at the end, when I suggested to Edwards that it was NOT the same on both sides, he responded quickly and with a measure of irritation in his voice about Gabby Giffords and Greg Stanton being Democrats. It wasn't quite clear what point he was trying to make other than that he, just like partisans, was not really interested in discussing ideas that disagree with his.
Ultimately, in spite of Edwards talk, I can't get past the idea that it takes a leader with serious backbone to withstand pressure from colleagues AND sometimes from citizen advocates from all sides. And that's not a matter of whether there is an R or a D after one's name. Sometimes, by the way, the ability to withstand that pressure is more a reflection of the demographics (including voter registration balance) in the district a lawmaker represents. But that's a matter for another blog post.