Recently on CNN, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.)
appeared and discussed the ongoing stall in the fiscal-cliff talks, and
delivered his take.
Congress, he said, was a much different place when he first arrived, because everyone in both parties socialized more, and they all had permanent residences in Washington. Before cellphones, the Internet, fax machines and other devices, people needed each other’s presence more to fill time, and members in both parties played golf together, went to happy hours and had family dinners and barbecues.
The technological innovation in the last 15 years has created a distance between members within their own parties and across the aisle that was essential to how our political system worked. Bob Dole, the 1996 presidential nominee for the Republicans, frequently joined Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the most liberal members in the Senate, in passing bipartisan legislation in the ’60s and ’70s. In the ’80s Ronald Reagan frequently had Tip O’Neill over for drinks, and passed bipartisan tax reform on an enormous scale (once in 1981 and again in 1986). They had a relationship, a friendship, and that trumped their political gamesmanship. Those relationships made the system work, and America’s biggest legislative success in the last 50 years has been on a bipartisan basis (Civil Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security reform).
Technology has led society in a more inward direction, because people don’t have to rely on other people’s company as much as they used to. It has also created a barrier in our political system by allowing our members to be constantly monitored from their home districts. The end result means they leave Washington more frequently to explain themselves to their constituents, and our country is left without necessary solutions to sustain itself.