The past month’s spectacle of Congress struggling with a debt ceiling limit, and the compromises over tax increases, cuts in government spending, and the anguished rhetoric, also highlighted a unique feature of partisan politics — the ability of party members to turn upon themselves.
This phenomenon manifests itself with a peculiar exercise in which dueling party members figuratively stand in a circle and fire pistols at each other. Some fall dead, others are wounded, and no one really wins the duel.
For some strange reason this is traditional in Republican circles. We’ve seen congress members aligned with the “Tea Party” savage their leadership on countless talk shows and in town hall calls to constituents back home, always willing to be quoted about how they’ve tried to shake up the status quo.
What have always been thought of as rock solid Republican principles — small government, balanced budgets, a strong defense posture, less government regulation and interference in our personal lives, more personal freedoms — are now forgotten by these new factions. The biggest effort is made to dislodge the established leadership, and denigrate the practices of negotiation and compromise, to try to effect change, or simply be disruptive to hear their points made.
When compromise is reached, the factions cast symbolic (and worthless) votes, talk about their disappointment, and wonder why they’ve not been listened to, or taken seriously. In watching their outspoken displays before the banks of media microphones, I’m reminded of watching an eight-year-old throw a temper tantrum in the aisles of Target. It’s embarrassing, for the kid mostly, but you’re pretty sure they have a future in politics.
House Majority Leader Amy Stephens in the 2011 session.
I bring up this circular firing squad behavior because it’s now occurring in Colorado, right down the road in El Paso County, where all manner of kooks with an agenda have started targeting Rep. Amy Stephens, the House Majority Leader.
Amy Stephens wears her Republican philosophy as a badge of honor. She’s respected by business leaders, because she respects the role of business. Her roles in establishing moral values are beyond question. (Even a career at Focus for the Family Standing in a Circle-2 doesn’t appear to be enough bona fides.) She has earned the respect of her House colleagues by keeping her wordCan you make a black and whit.
Yet her actions in the past legislative session, primarily as sponsor of the health care exchange bill, have put a target on her back. Half a dozen groups, some claiming to be “tea party-like,” others with “more conservative agendas,” have spun up to vilify and harass this legislator. You’d think these conservatives would be proud to have a solid GOP leader representing them. Guess again.
There are new anti-Amy blogs, an anonymous website, and dozens of malicious comments following The Gazette stories. The Gazette hasn’t done much to defend her, and the Independent gives voice to every crazy voice in the local political saga. The county GOP, with its 22-year old party secretary, has been openly hostile and supportive of the fringe groups.
I’ve met Amy Stephens twice, both times in business group settings. She listened to input, and clearly stated what she agreed with, and what she couldn’t support. “Disingenuous” never entered my mind. “Forthright” did. And I’ve not talked to her about how she’s portrayed, but I’ve seen plenty of coverage.
What she’s experiencing, however, with the vitriol and personal attacks, will only serve to discourage persons interested in a political life from stepping into any kind of public dialogue. “Why should I put up with that?” has to run through their minds. And Amy herself would, no doubt, be completely candid in advising acolytes, “Here’s what you’re in for.”
She’d have to add, “It’s not what I envisioned. I thought I was a true reflection of my constituents. And all the solid work I’ve done in the General Assembly is now being deconstructed and held up to ridicule.”
I’ll add — so much for doing the right thing. You are, indeed, being punished for performing good deeds and having sterling character.
Pete Webb, a public relations specialist, is a frequent observer of the state Legislature.