Juan Williams: The pollution of politics

Juan Williams: The pollution of politics
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When President Obama lobbied for fast-track authority on his trade bill he asked House Democrats to “play it straight.” Capitol Hill Republicans reacted by saying to Congressional Democrats, “We told you so. ”

Their argument is that this president is an intellectual bully. GOP members have long held that Obama believes anyone who disagrees with him is motivated by bad faith or a lack of integrity.

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It’s true that the President can be aloof, even arrogant. But in this case he is right.

Members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, don’t play it straight. They are all too easily pressured to pander to one side or the other. And then there is the power of big money lobbyists. The fact of the matter is Congress is constantly being twisted one way or the other by fear, anger and the need to raise money for the next election.

The result is Congress has lost its ability to be pragmatic and solve the nation’s big problems.

The polls are clear. Only 8 percent of Americans have strong confidence in Congress to get anything done, according to a recent Gallup poll. Congress has a 74 percent disapproval rating, according to the RealClearPolitics average of major polls.

Part of the problem is that Republicans in Congress have such a strong aversion to Obama. Their primary objective throughout his presidency has been to block his plans, from ObamaCare to immigration; infrastructure spending to judicial nominations.

So when he is gone in 18 months, will Congress start working with the next president, Republican or Democrat?

If Republicans win the White House, the odds are they will face the same far-right House conference that has thwarted Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) with extreme demands. This is the new political order in D.C.; refuse to compromise and win at any costs.

In the Senate, any Republican president will face grandstanding inspired by the never-ending need for fundraising in the post-Citizens United world. This impulse leads to filibusters, extreme rhetoric, self-publicizing antics and the desperate avoidance of anything that resembles a compromise with the political left.

Any Democrat who wins the 2016 presidential race will also begin her or his term in the White House buffeted by a House that is likely to remain in Republican control – and locked up by the Tea Party caucus. Democrats in the House will be playing to their left wing’s fury at Wall Street. And it’s not as if Democrats will be eager to negotiate with conservatives. It’s much more likely there will be a knee-jerk desire for payback against hardline Republicans.

Candidates running for the White House, Republican and Democrat, from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton, can see what is in store for them. They are already going after Congress as much as any of their opponents.

On the right, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), kicked off his campaign by promising to “take Washington – the static capital of this dynamic country – out of the business of causing problems.”

On the left, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), speaking to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Las Vegas, said much the same.

“It is time to end the politics of division in this country,” said Sanders, who is running for the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nomination. He portrayed congressional dysfunction in terms of “politicians playing one group of people against another group… white against black, male against female, straight against gay, native born against immigrant.”

Despite the widespread criticism, Congress is unlikely to change anytime soon. There are deep roots to Congress’ dysfunction, as Obama explained at a recent California fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee.

“I am frustrated…because Congress doesn’t work the way it should,” he said, “Folks are more interested in scoring political points than getting things done.” He also complained about “incentives that have been built into the system” which “reward a polarized politics.”

In earlier remarks to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the president seemed to compare the mayors favorably to Congress when he praised the local officials for their “pragmatism.”

“Mayors understand that if there’s a conflict between ideology and reality,” he said, “you should opt for reality.”

But in his remarks at the fundraiser, the president saved his strongest criticism of Washington politics for the voters – not Congress.

Too many Americans are happy to hold a “comfortable cynicism,” about Congress and all of Washington politics, he said. Democrats and Republicans “just say, ‘Oh, that place, Washington doesn’t work and everybody is dysfunctional – or that side of the aisle is crazy’ – and we just throw up our hands and give up.”

Obama urged voters to instead work hard to “ultimately push Congress in the direction of change.” He said even with a new Congress and a new president in 2016, he does not see any change unless the partisan activists on both sides start calling for their members to get to work on “unfinished business,” from tax reform, to building new infrastructure, to immigration reform.

In 1970, cartoonist Walt Kelly famously wrote that when it comes to polluting the environment, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Those words now apply to the political pollution despoiling Congress.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.