Geographically, Missouri’s 5th Congressional District and Kansas’ “Big First” are about a hundred miles apart. Politically, they are on opposite ends of the universe. This divide makes the “fiscal cliff,” gun control, abortion rights and other issues very difficult.
Missouri’s Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, heads up the Congressional Black Caucus, and Kansas’ Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, is a leading voice in the House tea party. Both vote with their parties: Huelskamp 87 percent of the time, and Cleaver 92 percent of the time.
Here they are in their own words.
Cleaver: “Look, if being liberal and progressive means that I care about children, and whether they go hungry, color me liberal. If being a Democrat means that I am concerned about our seniors in the sunset of life, color me Democrat. After all, we are the ones who protected Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, who fought for fair wages, and who ended ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”
Huelskamp: “Since our founding, the great American success story has been written because individuals have been able to pursue their talents and dreams free from government control…. Instead, the president’s idea of ‘fairness’ is providing government handouts only to those who accept his failed programs or gain access to him because of political connections and campaign contributions.”
These two embody today’s Congress: hardworking, outspoken and ideologically driven – in opposite ways. Cleaver’s gun control is Huelskamp’s attack on the Second Amendment. Huelskamp’s belt-tightening is Cleaver’s attack on the social safety net. Cleaver’s access to health care is Huelskamp’s slide toward socialism. Huelskamp’s holding the line on job-destroying taxes is Cleaver’s coddling of the rich.
Even when they agree, they disagree. A few years ago, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., proposed Medicaid caps and major Medicare changes. Cleaver and Huelskamp both voted “nay.” Cleaver feared that the Ryan budget cut these safety-net programs too much; Huelskamp thought it cut too little.
About 60 percent of Cleaver’s constituents favored Barack Obama (and Cleaver himself) in 2012. More than 70 percent of Huelskamp’s preferred Mitt Romney. Huelskamp drew 73.8 percent of the vote in 2010, then ran unopposed in 2012. Roll Call magazine rates both districts as “safe seats.”
Cleaver’s and Huelskamp’s constituencies support their congressmen while deploring the do-nothing Congress. These congressmen do what their more politically active constituents ask: fight to a stalemate.
Suitable compromise and good public policy follow respectful dialogue and genuine empathy, no matter how deep the disagreement. If we constituents cannot do this among ourselves, we surely cannot expect our representatives to do it for us.