The recent political rage to criticize the U.S. Congress for lack of accomplishment and unwillingness to compromise is deserved. In both the House and Senate, the negative actions of more than a few members have brought public derision upon all of them and the institution as well.
America has many problems: unemployment, education, environment, poverty, war; but watching the Congress’s lack of accomplishment, civility, and compromise one might have the thought that all is well across this land. In these difficult and dangerous times, we should not abide our broken legislative mainspring, rather we ought to be looking very closely to determine what has gone wrong and fix it.
In our relatively well-designed legislative system, the entire difficulty can’t lie only with those who represent us. We need to examine not only Capitol Hill but also ourselves. Are we, as citizens, attentive to our governmental system? Perhaps not, when seventy percent of Americans don’t even vote on Election Day. It is doubtful we are knowledgeable about our elected representatives when most people can’t name even their own members of Congress.
A recent example of how some Americans are actually responsible for gridlock became public in a newspaper article. It cited the removal of the long-time national columnist Dick Metcalf from his position with Guns and Ammo magazine. Mr. Metcalf, a long-time gun enthusiast and hunter, has written for dozens of gun magazines. According to the news article, Mr. Metcalf was dismissed by the magazine because he said that too many gun owners believed that the constitution prohibits any regulation of firearms. He noted that all rights are regulated, such as freedom of speech. “You cannot falsely and deliberately shout fire in a crowded theater.”
When the readers and advertisers in Guns and Ammo read Mr. Metcalf’s words, they were outraged; apparently they believe that even with the horrible gun tragedies of 2013, the slightest smidgeon of suggestion for compromise in gun regulations is beyond the pale. Think what message such intransigence to compromise says to our representatives in Congress.
During the eighteen years I represented Montanans in the U.S. Congress, I had a strong anti-gun control voting record. But I also understood that many of my constituents, including some close friends, were unreasonably adamant in their opposition to any consideration of compromise about gun regulations while at the same time complaining about the lack of compromise and productivity in the Congress. When the citizenry rejects compromise, the Congress will not be far behind.
Pat Williams served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana. After his retirement, he returned to Montana and taught at The University of Montana.