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Judd Gregg: Pelosi's olive branch...sort of
In January 1850, when the country was on the cusp of being torn apart over slavery, Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky rose on the Senate floor to present what would become the outline of the Compromise of 1850.
The Compromise kept the nation from descending prematurely into what would be a horrific civil war. It postponed that event until the nation was led by President Lincoln.
It would be expected that Clay, in making his proposal, might be most concerned that numerous tensions and issues, including sectionalism, economic self-interest, and of course the unresolvable issue of slavery would defeat it.
But these issues were not what he most feared.
The gravest threat he saw was partisanship.
Clay began his explanation of his plan and its importance by saying: "If I were to mention, to race to their original source, the cause of all our present dangers and difficulties, I should ascribe them to the violence and intemperance of party spirit...It is passion, passion-party, party...that is all I dread in adjustment of the great questions which unhappily at this time divide our distracted country."
Today you could easily say that partisanship has slid into an even deeper abyss.
Today it is ideological purity that colors our parties and our politics.
It is the people gathering about themselves those of similar views, prejudices and anger who drive forth the intolerance that causes our government to fail in its primary purpose, which is to govern.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the majordomo of the parade of people on the left who are in large part energized by anger and even hate.
They cannot abide President Trump.
They have little need, and essentially no respect, for anyone who does not accept the tenets of their political theology.
The band is a large one with many marchers: trumpet players like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), trombone players like Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and tuba players like Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
But their intolerance is matched measure for measure by those on the right.
President Trump does not step aside for anyone when it comes to leading the music of incoherent dislike of all who oppose him.
He has his orchestra of Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham to carry his tune of anger and outrage - a tune that mocks anyone who would question the rightness of his endless tweets, for example.
Our political and thought leaders have gone into hiding from all with whom they may disagree.
They find their stovepipes of agreeable news sources, whether it is on the left such as the New York Times or MSNBC, or on the right such as Fox News.
They pull themselves into their self-ordained echo chambers and shut the door.
It is fortunate that our times are generally positive.
We do not confront the trauma that Clay and Daniel Webster did.
They were using their great skills to keep a nation that was so divided together. Without them, it is reasonable to postulate that civil war would have erupted in the 1840s or 1850s, and with much less likelihood that the nation would survive as one.
Today, we confront issues that should be eminently resolvable.
They are not overly complex. They should not require those who espouse one solution over another to tie themselves to a mast of intolerance.
For example, there should be a clear path to a workable and responsible immigration policy.
In fact it was offered a few years ago. It involved a strong guest worker program, an equally strong enforcement regime against American employers who hired people here illegally, a robust program to retain and attract foreign workers who could bring needed skills to our nation, a pathway to legal status for people here illegally but who had over the years been responsible and, yes, expanded border protection including building a wall, where needed.
It was a bipartisan plan. It is still rational and should be viable.
Except that the debate over immigration policy is no longer about substance.
It is about the president.
It is partisanship.
It is demagoguery on steroids.
It is about people "going to the mattress" to fight over something that should be eminently solvable but is not, because ideological theocracy possesses both parties and the body politic.
The same, of course, can be claimed for most issues of substance that now stand in limbo due the descent of our parties into the basements of mean-spirited confrontation.
The budget; the deficit that is eating away our children's and grandchildren's future; social issues of consequence; trade; our national defense structure; tax reform; social security solvency - the list is extensive.
These are issues that should be discussed without uncompromising rancor, but they are not.
We do not have a Clay or a Webster to turn to, it would seem.
We could certainly use leadership of their force and logic to draw out compromise and cause people to pause and reflect on the damage that is being done by the present state of our political discourse.
"Dread" is the word bestowed by Clay on what he saw as the nation's fate in those extraordinarily fateful days.
It is a term which unfortunately may also be applicable today, although it should not be, since the issues in contest today have nowhere near the gravity of slavery.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last week that Democrats should not seek the impeachment of the president because he is "not worth it." Her words were a clear attempt to mute the noise of her most vociferous colleagues.
Her comments were hardly a Clay-like disavowal of the destructive policy of impeachment, but they at least pushed the House away from pursuing a course of reprisal that would be harmful not only to her party but to the nation.
The Speaker made the correct choice. It was the first sign that maybe there will be a pulling back from this invasive vitriol that has possessed our parties.
It is a strange point at which to start the repair and move toward the possible return to civility and constructiveness. But we need to start somewhere.
Now is a good time and the Speaker may have - even unsuspectingly - given us an actual place for a beginning.
Her call for no impeachment could be called an olive branch...sort of.
Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.