One of my college history professors once talked about the two chambers of Congress. He explained that the House of Representatives would always have turmoil. He based that idea on the fact that it was made up of a lot more people from varying parts of the country. As a result, he claimed it would be more difficult to get a consensus on many issues.
On the other hand, he said, the Senate was considered more of the “adult” house in Congress. Since each state only gets two seats in the Senate, and since the rules in the Senate were far more strict than in the House, it was much more likely that compromise would flourish in the Senate.
Way back then, that seemed like a reasonable concept. I figured that with only 100 members in the Senate, it would be a lot easier for both sides to sit down and compromise on issues in order to get things accomplished. The country would be able to move forward, and the rights of the minority population would be protected.
The idea that the Senate was the “adult” house of Congress took into consideration that both parties wanted to accomplish good things for the American people. It took into consideration that compromise was a good thing. It took into consideration that both sides knew they weren’t going to get everything they wanted.
Unfortunately, something happened along the way since my time in college. That something became partisanship. I am not talking about ideological partisanship. I am talking about “my way or the highway” partisanship. Believe it or not, this all started back in the 1980s. It began with the election of Ronald Reagan as President.
Now, I am not going off on a bash Reagan campaign here. I am simply stating facts as I see them. This isolationism between the parties began when Reagan got the Fairness Doctrine cancelled in 1987. If you don’t remember the Fairness Doctrine, here is a simple definition of it.
The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949. It required the holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was, in the Commission’s view, honest, equitable and balanced.
It had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. If stations did not follow the Fairness Doctrine, they could lose their license.
The demise of the Fairness Doctrine under Ronald Reagan led directly to the partisan “talk radio” we suffer through today. It allowed broadcasters to present their views without having to offer contrasting views. As a result, the conservative movement ran screaming to the microphones. As Rush Limbaugh once boasted: “Reagan brought down the wall, and I was the first to scramble over the ruins.”
The demise of the Fairness Doctrine directly led to the existence of radio hosts like Limbaugh, Jones, Huckabee, and of course Fox News Network. They were free to bloviate whatever they wanted without having to talk about the other side. Why were the conservatives the first to use such tactics? Because they always felt that the mass media was against them. They believed that they could get more people to vote for them if they could “tell” their side without fear of being forced to “tell” the other side.
Over the years, this has led to the rise of such wonderful groups like the Tea Party. These fanatical conservatives consider “compromise” to be a four-letter word. They consider “fair and balanced” reporting as being “liberal” and “socialist.” As a result, we now have two basic camps in the media. One is ultra-conservative and the other is more liberal.
This means that if you really want to find a “fair and balanced” perspective on issues or candidates you need to search through hundreds of sources. Most Americans don’t have time for that. As a result, we have settled into those same two camps.
As a result, more ultra-conservative Senators have been elected. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but when these same Senators refuse to compromise in order to move the country forward, that is a bad thing. When these Senators are at the mercy of the money of radical ultra-conservatives who only care about their own pockets, that is a bad thing.
The demise of the Fairness Doctrine has also led to the “coming out” of radical videos. It is now okay to heavily edit a video of a conversation you have had with someone just to show how bad the other side really is. You do not have to show the whole video to show complete context anymore. The latest round of videos aimed at Planned Parenthood is a perfect example. There have been others. And, I dare say from both sides.
That is why you don’t hear anyone telling their audience that these videos were heavily edited to show one side of the issue. They don’t have to say that anymore. You may say ethics would force them to “tell the truth” but ethics took a back seat with the demise of the Fairness Doctrine.
As a result of all of this nonsense, we have a dysfunctional government. We have two houses of Congress full of spoiled brats who cry that everything must be their way or else. We have Senators who actually want to shut down the government in order to “defund” Planned Parenthood simply because they hate abortion. Abortion is not the only services Planned Parenthood offers, but that is enough to shut them down. Even if it means shutting down the government.
Because of this frenzy of partisanship, Mitch McConnell says he won’t have negotiations with Democrats over the upcoming funding bills needed to fund the government. He says he would consider what to do once Congress returns in September. He has refused to hold negotiations with Democrats for months. Which is another reason we are facing another government shutdown come the end of September. All because he is afraid of the spoiled brats on his side of the aisle.
I don’t know if that History Professor is still alive today. I do believe that he would have to reconsider his idea that the Senate is the “adult” house in Congress. And, it all has to do with Reagan getting enough of his people on the FCC to kill the Fairness Doctrine.
If you really care about our country and “fair and balanced” reporting, we need to bring back the Fairness Doctrine. Its demise is the root cause of our dysfunctional government and the isolationism between parties. When you don’t have to present both sides, the truth will never come out.