Central Pennsylvania became the center of national power last weekend when the semi-annual Civility Retreat, rolled by special Amtrak trains into Harrisburg. Funded by special interest groups, the three-day retreat is designed to ‘‘take politicians out of the Washington spotlight and away from political bickering.” It must have worked. In the sweetest place in the world, Hershey Pennsylvania, 190 members of Congress, Democrats, Republicans and their families, with full VIP treatment were able to connect, to feel, to know pain, to surrender their partisan beliefs and support more bi-partisan efforts.
“People were crying,” Representative Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., said the day the Convention was over, about the intimate emotional exchanges that occurred during the parley. The bitterly divided partisan members probably came to this momentous moment at the high fire while singing Kumbaya and sipping hot chocolate. It is regrettable that they were so engaged in this repartee that the schedule left no time for field trips. Just a couple of short hops around Hershey and they would have had something to cry about.
People are crying in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and in just about every other school district where there is a significant disadvantaged population. While Philadelphia spends $8 million on a laser light show for its riverfront, the school district is taping schoolbooks back together. Governor Ridge has offered these kids a school choice package, one that undoubtedly the Federal education bureaucracy will move to stifle with more bi-partisan mandates from Washington.
People are crying on family farms in mid-state Pennsylvania where dairy, hog and tobacco prices have dropped dramatically and the farmers are getting crushed. While a bi-partisan congressional caucus pledges $2 billion for open space preservation, true open space, family farms, are betting bull dozed by the hour as price controls are randomly stripped without thought to the consequences.
People are crying in independently owned businesses in Pennsylvania. While a bi-partisan congressional caucus pledged in 1993 that independent business owners would be able to deduct the full cost of medical insurance for themselves and their employees, the way their corporate colleagues do, it still hasn’t happened. The employers strain against the cost of HMO coverage, while their employees battle the constraints of the HMO.
People are crying in family owned businesses in Pennsylvania. While a bi-partisan caucus pledged in 1994 to relieve the onerous provisions of the Inheritance Tax that forces family businesses to sell, the IRS objected based on complex and arcane accounting rules. Congress rolled over and family businesses are being sold at an alarming rate leaving our communities stripped of proprietors and the community support engendered by local ownership.
In Hershey Pennsylvania the Congress of the United States cried, while so many segments of American society weep. Debate is intrinsic to the health of our republic. It’s not the debate that’s the problem, its’ the problems that the Congress debates. Inevitably the outcome is another Federal solution and those Federal solutions are the root of so many state problems. The great issues that have faced this nation since the days of the Continental Congress have never been debated with civility. Civility in the discourse of public debate is symptomatic of a lack of conviction and compassion. We expect rancor in the crafting of policy that’s how democracy works. What we really want is for the Congress to stick with Congress’ issues and leave the states alone.
Some day the congress of the United States may understand that, if they do they’ll focus on the few truly national issues in the magnificent partisan tradition of this republic and then civility be damned.