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Kyle Simpson

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The current iteration of our country’s lawmaking body, the 114th Congress, is being historically unproductive in the lawmaking department, rivaled only by the two previous Republican-controlled Congresses under President Obama since 2010. In today’s Washington, compromising to pass bills to just prevent government shutdowns are considered to be landmark events, the 21st century’s Missouri Compromise. Sometimes, they don’t even manage to pass those in time – so don’t get your hopes up for laws that attempt to fix our actual problems. Instead of being merely a short-lived snag in the life of our democracy, the gridlock in Washington, D.C. appears to instead be the new normal, and voters don’t seem to mind. Congressional approval ratings have dipped as low as 9 percent in 2014 and stand at 16 percent currently, according to Gallup, but our lawmakers show no signs of changing their ways because the responsible people continue to get elected.

Right here in Alabama, we are witnessing first-hand a perfect example of why we are stuck in this never-ending gridlock of a political system. Richard Shelby, a U.S. senator since 1987, is running for re-election in 2016. If you have been watching television during the past month, you’ve probably seen an advertisement for his campaign. One was even aired during Alabama’s Cotton Bowl victory on New Year’s Eve. “Richard Shelby stands up for us,” the ad declares, “stands up to Obama every single day.” Whether or not you agree with Barack Obama’s politics, there’s no question that this mentality of division and refusal to work together is toxic for our state, our country, and our democracy. The worst part is that this brand of politics is working, and it has earned stubborn politicians key positions in our government.

Sure, the ad opens with vague policy goals like “Alabama values,” “helping our veterans,” and “fighting illegal immigration and Obama’s amnesty,” (Did Obama come out with an amnesty proposal that I missed?) but the amount of division in Congress, perpetuated by a refusal to even consider the other side’s argument, has made it all but impossible for anything to get accomplished. Republicans often appear to be more concerned with preventing Obama from doing anything than implementing conservative policy ideas. For example, cap-and-trade, a policy that was developed as a market-based solution to lowering carbon emissions and championed by Presidents Reagan and H.W. Bush, is now a dirty word for Republicans. Infamously, Mitt Romney implemented a healthcare system in Massachusetts that was used as a model for Obamacare. By almost any definition, Obamacare is a moderate solution to rising healthcare costs and uninsured rates and is quite modest compared to healthcare systems in most other industrialized countries, but Republicans have convinced half the country that it is the first sign of a communist government takeover.

I’m not trying to demonize Republicans in this column; there are Republicans that are more than willing to work with the other side of the aisle to compromise and create good legislation. Unfortunately, politicians who are more concerned with hurting President Obama’s legacy have taken a more prominent role and are gumming up the engine of our democracy. We should support candidates who fight for their platforms but are willing to make reasonable concessions in order to advance productive legislation. Maybe we shouldn’t vote for a candidate whose primary argument is that they will “stand up to Obama,” no matter what. Until then, it’s likely that we’ll be stuck with more of the same in Washington D.C. 

Kyle Simpson is a junior majoring in biology. His column runs weekly.

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