The economic news gets more depressing each day. In the past week, just in Maine, Barber Foods announced 71 layoffs; Verso Paper, the permanent closure of a paper machine and the loss of 125 jobs; MaineToday Media, the reduction of 61 more positions; and Lowe’s, the closure of two slow-performing stores.

The national economy is in meltdown. In spite of that, Congress used a procedural vote to kill President Barack Obama’s Jobs Act.

It’s no wonder that the latest poll released by Gallup shows the approval rating for Congress at a dismal 13 percent. The American public’s view of Congress has been in a free fall since a favorable high of 84 percent in 2001.

We expect Congress to work with the president to address the jobs crisis. Nobody expects Congress to rubberstamp Obama’s proposal, but there must be something in the package that intrigues them.

Tax cuts for small businesses that hire new positions or increase wages? More money to states to rehire teachers, first responders or returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan? Extending unemployment benefits for job seekers? Extending the reduction in the payroll tax for working families?

Surely there’s something in the package that Congress can embrace with a bipartisan hug. Instead, we have the Democrats accusing Republicans of obstructionism who care more about defeating Obama than boosting the economy, and the Republicans accusing the president of campaigning while they try to legislate.

The Democrats are getting ready to offer pieces of Obama’s package — one at a time — and skewer Republicans who aren’t in favor of small business tax credits or rehiring laid-off teachers.

The Republicans put together a package full of regurgitated proposals — repealing Obama’s health care reforms, a Constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget and removing restrictions on off-shore drilling for oil — and called it their alternative jobs package.

Neither strategy is designed for success. The country needs and deserves better.

The sticking point for Republicans seems to be how Obama proposes to pay for his proposals. Closing corporate loopholes and a tax increase for people who make more than $1 million per year are anathema to the anti-tax pledge the majority of Republicans and some Democrats have signed with the Americans for Tax Reform and its founder, Grover Norquist.

The economic crisis facing Americans doesn’t appear to matter nearly as much as the commitment to ideological purity demanded by the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

In 1919, the noted sociologist, Max Weber presented an essay called “Politics as a Vocation” to students at Munich University in the midst of the German Revolution, the politically driven civil conflict at the end of World War I.

Weber described rational politics as the art of compromise and decision-making based on the weighing of social benefits versus costs. He said politicians should not act solely based on what he termed the “ethic of responsibility” or the “ethic of ultimate ends,” but in a combination of the two.

According to Weber, politicians who act from an ethic of responsibility are sticklers for technically correct procedure, while politicians who act from an ethic of ultimate ends are devoted to a higher conviction, both regardless of consequences.

The sticklers for procedure become weakened or even paralyzed by insisting that how things get done is more important than whether anything gets done. Those focused on a higher conviction become fanatics willing to force society to pay huge costs rather than compromise.

Weber’s description of broken politics aptly describes the toxic stalemate in Washington today.

In 1919, Weber’s exhortations to the power structures to engage in compromise and deliberate decision-making were ignored and the consequences were dire in Germany.

It’s lamentable enough that a jobs act to improve our economic meltdown is a casualty of the inability of our elected national leaders to listen to each other and seek common ground.

America’s lamentations may just be beginning, however, if leaders don’t soon emerge that can both follow and show respect for rules of civic engagement and have some ideological passion for their calling. America needs elected officials who can do both.

Kay Rand is former chief of staff for Maine independent Gov. Angus King.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: