In search of the vanishing political center

No, Joe Biden hasn’t written a guest column about his big pending infrastructure bill, a bill that would be of invaluable help to transportation and logistics-focused metropolitan Chicago. Instead, those quotes come from the Chicagoan who was president, Barack Obama, about his experience in trying to pass a big stimulus bill amid the depths of the subprime recession. And the takeaway is that, 12 years later, nothing really has changed.

If there’s one thing this bitterly divided nation agrees on—other than that the other half is a bunch of stupid nitwits—is that Washington, D.C., really ought to be named Gridlocktopia. Presidents and legislative leaders come and go. Raw partisanship remains.

“Actually, it’s getting worse,” says Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Deerfield, a member of the House Problem Solver Caucus and a man whose politics jibe well with the largely centrist bent of most voters in his north suburban district. “We have to do something that addresses the concerns of the country.” Something beyond fighting and pointing fingers, that is.

Lots of people have written lots of words about this phenomenon lately. Among the causes: a hyperpartisan remap process that makes defeating your more extreme foe in the primary a bigger challenge than beating the other party in the November general election, the division of much of the media into cheering camps, and a slow decline in voter turnout (excepting 2020) that’s shifted the electoral paradigm from reaching to the middle to revving up the base.

But it’s now more than that.

The country’s partisan divide has morphed into “partisan identity,” says former Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago. “If you ‘give in’ to the other side, you’re not compromising on a policy issue; you’re a heretic.”

Lipinski’s right. Several downstate Republican lawmakers a few days ago wrote the Chicago Cubs and White Sox deploring decisions to reserve some seats for COVID-vaccinated patrons as “segregation . . . an infringement on liberties . . . (and) potential stigmatizing of Illinois based on medical status.” GOP orthodoxy these days is that Democrats and ball teams aren’t trying to save lives but just push around red-blooded Americans who have a God-given right to infect and kill anyone they want.

Lipinski would know something about such orthodoxy, from the other side. Though he’s a Democrat in the mold of generations of Southwest Siders before him, he has a conservative side, particularly on social issues. That lost him his job in the Democratic primary last year, making him sort of a man without a country, a more left version of where GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, is as he moves away from the GOP’s activist base.

Lipinski also happens to know something about transportation policy, having specialized in that area in the House.

Asked about Biden’s current $2 billion infrastructure plan—and a much smaller GOP alternative that’s focused heavily on roads—he sees a chance they’ll work it out in Washington, perhaps keeping Biden’s emphasis on not only roads and bridges but electronic charging stations and trains, while taking out the “human infrastructure” spending that provokes Republicans.

“It’s possible. I would meet somewhere in the middle,” he says. “I doubt it’s about to happen.”

I hope he’s wrong. If Chicago and Illinois are to compete in today’s world, we need a backbone that works, and that means a lot more than the roads the Southern lawmakers covet. After all, what’s the world coming to If you can’t count on a bunch of politicians to get together on a plan to allow all of them to cut lots of ribbons at election time?

via Crain’s Chicago Business

May 21, 2021 at 06:42AM

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