Comparisons Across Capitals

October, 2013

Lincoln -- Trying to keep track of developments in three capitals provides a perspective to make comparisons.

Berlin is dealing collegially with the results of last month's elections, putting together a coaliton of its leading political parties. A CDU/SPD grand coalition, which ruled from 2005-2009, is again a possibility.

Washington is at an impasse, the government shut down for several days and counting. The credibility of Washington at home and especially abroad has taken an enormous beating. No foreign enemy or terrorist organization could do the damage that Washington is doing to itself.

The choices Washington faces are fundamentally ethical: is it ethical for a minority (of either party) to shut down the government to try to get its way on an issue for which it does not have the votes? Is it ethical to give in to such tactics? Should the Speaker of the House continue to have the power to prevent an up-or-down vote of the entire House to re-open the government? Is it ethical that national security should be put at such risk?

In Nebraska, has anyone thought to ask the state's congressional delegation if they remember what George Norris, a Nebraska Republican congressman, did in 1910 in the face of a similar dilemma? Norris led a group of fellow Republicans to challenge the power of Speaker Joseph Cannon to dictate what legislation could be voted on. Norris prevailed; Boss Cannon was stripped of such power.

George Norris went on to be re-elected to the House and later elected to the Senate, serving until 1943. He is a political legend in Nebraska and in Washington, profiled in JFK's Profiles in Courage. He was among the first elected to Nebraska's Hall of Fame.

German friends note with sadness that America has fallen so far, and with irony that it was primarily America, after WWII, that set up their own government, which continues to function comparatively smoothly. In Germany, conservatives have accommodated liberals, and vice versa, to create a country where the economy is robust, where the gap between rich and poor is narrow, where health care is effective and affordable, and where education and opportunity abound.