Chan Lowe: To Washington's craven Republicans: If not now, when?

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Once to ev'ry man and nation

Comes the moment to decide,

In the strife of truth and falsehood,

For the good or evil side;

Some great cause, some great decision,

Off'ring each the bloom or blight,

And the choice goes by forever

'Twixt that darkness and that light.

— James Russell Lowell


We're waiting. After an unprecedented week for this country, we're waiting for the president's party in Congress to acknowledge publicly that our leader is either in thrall to an enemy, seriously ill, completely unequipped to handle the job or suffering the ravages of dementia. A few taxpayers out here feel it's time for our representatives to earn those generous salaries and cushy perks they voted for themselves.

Perhaps some of them still remember the oath of office they took on that heady day when they thought the rest of their lives would be one long gravy train. If they recall anything in that oath about supporting and defending their party's president against all enemies, foreign and domestic, then they weren't paying attention. That part concerns the Constitution — a document embodying the purpose and meaning of this nation — and it was intentionally made the object of everyone's allegiance because the Founding Fathers intended for our devotion never to be focused upon a single person, as though he were a king.

Actually, we know why the only Republicans with the guts to say anything negative about the president in public are those who have announced their retirement or who are in the last days of life. They never have to face another primary. The remainder have to look at themselves in the mirror knowing that the hushed conversations they hold in back corridors with trusted colleagues can never be revealed for fear of retribution. They know that primaries are where the crazies live, and what good does it do to sacrifice oneself?

Coddled princes

It's natural for the average citizen to ask why, in the situation we currently find ourselves, it's so hard for these coddled princes of government to just do the right thing and put country first. After all, they probably know even better than the electorate how damaging this president is to the country they serve. For us, the decision is as clear as it is easy to make. But then, our judgment isn't fettered by personal career concerns.

Most Americans think of Congress as a collective body churning out legislation. In fact, there's very little about Congress that is "collective." It's actually made up of 535 independent vertical corporations, each with its own stockholders, each pursuing its own interests, each trying to get a leg up on the other. At the pinnacle of each corporation is the member of Congress or the Senator, who holds the dual role of CEO and sole product of that corporation. Flowing in and out of their office is money — oceans of it — gushing from those who want to ensure themselves a position close to the legislator's ear.

Unfortunately, there is one snag in what would otherwise be a perfect, closed system: Its survival rests on the whim of the local yokels who bother to go to the polls, and who must be carefully nurtured and kept happy. This creates a particularly thorny dilemma when there is a crisis and the folks back home are too uninformed to know where their best interests lie. The member of Congress or the senator may know, but to act upon it risks that the whole house of cards will collapse.

That ugly question no legislator ever wants to face then rears up: "Was I elected to represent the desires of my constituency, or to use my best judgment on its behalf?" Our president, by carefully cultivating his base, has made that question particularly painful for congressional members of his party. There are still no calls from timid Republicans even to pass legislation protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by a president devoid of respect for the rule of law.

The toughest decision

Putting country before one's self interest is one of the toughest decisions anyone ever has to make. It's made on the battlefield all the time. Most of us out in the boondocks never have to make it, but then again, nobody forced any of these people to run for office, and the assumption is that they knew they might someday have to confront their consciences over a vote or two. Part of the disillusionment we feel is due to dissimilarity between today's modern politician and what the Founding Fathers envisioned: the noble yeoman who laid down his plow, served a term or two as a citizen-legislator and returned to private life. Nobody foresaw the rise of the career professional officeholder, or they might have thought of term limits.

We can understand what's intimidating Republicans, although it doesn't mitigate our disgust at their cravenness. The best we can hope for is that when Mueller drops his bomb it'll be so devastating that even the folks back home will demand that Congress finally do its job to constrain the chief executive.

Also from Lowell's hymn:

Then it is the brave man chooses

While the coward stands aside

Till the multitude make virtue

Of the faith they had denied.

We are that multitude. Since congressional Republicans don't seem to know any better, it's become our job to explain to them what virtue is.

Chan Lowe is the deputy editorial page editor of The Eagle and a syndicated editorial cartoonist.


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