There’s been a lot of talk over the past few weeks about Dan Liljenquist’s op-ed in the Deseret News along the lines of “how dare Dan do this, Mike Lee is a patriot!” or “Senators Cruz, Lee, and Paul are right.” What gets lost in all of this talk is one simple little truth:
Dan Liljenquist agrees with you.
How could that be? He said that Senator Lee was wrong. What got lost in the message is that he didn’t say that Senator Lee had the wrong content, just the wrong tone. Instead of working to advance his goals via negotiations, via using his influence to build relationships and then persuading people to come over to his side (to repurpose a metaphor in the article), he doused the middle ground in gasoline and set it on fire. His tone was so strident, so unyielding, and so virulent that no Democrat in his right mind would support him. In other words, because his tone was so combative, he didn’t have any opportunity to actually influence the debate in a positive direction.
I’ve heard Senator Lee compared to Senator Charles Sumner, the Massachusetts Republican who was beaten with a cane on the Senate floor for his support for abolitionism. What’s more amazing is that this comparison has been made in the vein of “he’s amazing, he’s just like Sen. Sumner, willing to fall on his petard for his convictions.” That’s all well and good, and I appreciate him having those convictions. At the same time, is that how Senator Lee should be remembered – as a footnote in the history books? As the answer to a trivia question in 2140? Wouldn’t it be better if he was remembered not as a footnote, but as someone who actually helped fix our constitutional issues, instead of the guy who stood up there waving his US Constitution on bow of a sinking ship (to mix my metaphors).
What’s lost in the Sumner comparison is that Sumner didn’t help free the slaves. He didn’t do one thing to solve that particular problem. He’s not Lincoln’s forbearer, he’s not someone who made the US stronger. On the contrary. He’s a Senator who went in to the Senate and helped polarize the nation enough that not only was he beaten half to death on the Senate floor, but who also helped contribute to the deaths of 750,000 Americans in the Civil War.
Would the Civil War have happened if Sumner had been more of a uniter instead of a divider, to borrow a Bush-like turn of phrase? Nobody knows, and it’s not necessarily ideal to armchair quarterback the issue from 150 years in the future. What I do know is he certainly drove his own personal wedge in an already divided nation. That’s what Senator Lee has done, is staked his position and driven his wedge.
What he should have done is thrown his wedge away and worked as much as possible with the other side to stop the ACA (Obamacare). Perhaps he could have pulled out a one year delay in its implementation. That’s something that even strident progressives like Jon Stewart support. Perhaps he could have then used that time to work on his fellow Republicans to work with their colleagues and friends on the other side to mitigate, further delay, or stop all or part of the ACA from happening. At the end, we will never know because he chose to do his part in driving the Senate apart.
It’s my opinion that there is no honor in being the lone voice in the wilderness driving people away with an uncompromising, unlistening voice. What there is honor in is being that voice of sanity and of reason and bringing others over to your side, thereby actually causing change instead of just screaming at the top of your lungs that people should change. That is ultimately what I think Dan Liljenquist was saying, and I agree with him.