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C. Fraser Smith: Consorting with the enemy

A stretch of Interstate 97 west of Annapolis is dedicated to the late John A. Cade, by now a mostly anonymous former member of the state Senate.

Cade was a Republican stalwart in the 1980s and 1990s. His like, as they say, may never be seen again — not in this political atmosphere at least.

As in Washington, D.C., Republican politics in Maryland have no room for such a man.

Cade believed in governing more than in partisanship. He believed in contributing his talent, his experience, his legendary impatience to the making of laws and policy. He believed in expressing his views via his legislating, not to mention his tough questioning of those who came before him and the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

He kept a skull of some unknown derivation on his desk. This is what happened to the last bureaucrat who failed to give honest and complete testimony before his committee, it was meant to announce.

Government bureaucrats did not regard this as theater. Cade was respected (and posthumously honored with the section of highway dedicated to him) for his contributions to budget making, to public education and to the art of governing.

A dysfunctional Congress

Such a man would be homeless in the Maryland GOP today. Cooperation has become the third rail of that party over the last few years.

In a book out this week, two veteran Washington scholars assert that the U.S. Congress is as dysfunctional as it was during the Civil War. Republicans, they charge, are to blame.

The authors are Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning organization, and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, which comes at governing and politics from the left.

There is no honest way to evenly distribute the blame, they say. The two have criticized Democrats in earlier books, but the GOP is clearly the culprit here — and, it would appear, proudly so.

“One of the two major parties, the Republican Party,” they write, “has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; un-persuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

This approach to politics and government has infected legislative bodies across the nation. Some of it may have started nearer the grass roots.

Cooperation or capitulation?

As partisanship began to supersede governing in Annapolis, John Cade was pilloried by his GOP colleagues for cooperating with “the enemy,” i.e., the Democrats.

He wasn’t the only one. Maryland’s late U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias was referred to as a “liberal swine” by one of the newly militant Republicans. This was in the 1980s.

In today’s state Senate, Cade’s successor as the Republicans’ intellectual leader is E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore legislator regarded by his colleagues in both parties as a man of considerable talent. He might have been Cade’s spiritual successor as well, but he, too, operates as if the other party is the enemy, as if cooperation is capitulation.

This approach was given formal legitimacy in Annapolis 15 or so years ago by former Del. Ellen Sauerbrey and others. Their party-building strategy forbade cooperation. If a Republican chose to work with Democrats, he or she simply wanted personal glory not available in a minority party.

The idea that a Republican could influence outcomes in the best interest of Maryland, as Cade did, was illusory, according to this view. This was acceptable strategy if you took the position that “the enemy” had to be stopped to save Maryland (or America).

Sauerbrey, somewhat ironically, is credited with promoting an idea that actually looks like governing. Her spending affordability concept (adopted by majority Democrats) theoretically sets a limit on spending every year. One wonders if even that sort of classically GOP idea would be offered by a Republican today. Wouldn’t it be too much like cooperation?

So, I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing any signs on the highway honoring the estimable E. J. Pipkin. Democrats won’t suggest one. And even if they did, he’d have to turn it down.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.