The late John McCain was an irascible fellow, a worthy debate adversary who could torch opponents with an impish smile and a glint in his eye. Despite his legendary temper, McCain never lost sight of his opponents’ humanity. He did not stoop to hurling insults to bolster a fragile ego. Perhaps it was because after five years as a POW, his ego was anything but fragile.
That’s what made McCain’s call for a return to regular order so powerful.
“Let’s trust each other,” he said. “We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.”
McCain said that in context of the Senate, but his plea aptly applies to the American citizenry.
After McCain’s 2017 call for regular order, NPR’s Ron Elving explored the concept. In the Senate, Elving said it refers to the procedures and processes, rules and precedents that governed the Senate for generations with few exceptions.
“But regular order is not only a process,” he wrote, “it is also a state of mind. It implies not only procedures but also a presumption of at least some degree of bipartisanship.” It means “doing things the old-fashioned way.”
A state of mind. Like being attentive and respectful rather than in-your-face confrontive when with or among those holding very different political outlooks. Like not talking incessantly, loudly, or over those with whom one disagrees. Like choosing to rise above the miasma rather than swim in the cesspool in which ad hominem attacks are the rules of the game rather than point-by-point rebuttal.
Regular order implies stability. It suggests that even though the passengers might be having at it, it doesn’t get to the point of capsizing the boat. It implies that if the boat is attacked, the differing passengers would work collaboratively to repel the attack and protect each other. But it’s unclear whether the USS United States with its manifest of 330,000,000 passengers is there.
When Joe Biden announced his candidacy for the presidency, Pennsylvania Democratic Party consultant Aren Platt commented, “Biden is not a nuanced policy guy, and he’s not a ‘blow up the world and create a new system’ candidate. He’s an institutionalist. That’s his bread and butter.”
An institutionalist. Hmm, I thought. What does it entail, imply?
Institutions comprise integral threads of a democratic society’s web. Schools, churches, NGO’s, fraternal organizations, labor unions and guilds, small business associations and corporations are among them. They serve to interconnect the masses of people.
Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and atheists hold deeply personal opposing beliefs, but they’re children could be students in the same public-school classroom. In addition, they might individually be VFW members. A blue-collar Teamster might be an independent over-the-road truck driver but also own green-energy stock and be a climate-changed activist.
This interwoven societal web allows for an infinite complexity of overlapping, inter-connected associations and relationships. Those prompt individuals to move from their silos of comfort and sometimes rage and engage with fellow citizens on projects of mutual interest.
I believe most Americans are institutionalists like Biden who, like McCain, ardently want regular order restored.
An old country song sings, “I never promised you a rose garden.” Nor did our Founders. They understood the nature of humans to cause strife and mischief. It’s the reason they created the Constitution and worked to create a culture based on rule of law, which is now under threat by the ones charged with protecting it.
Those attempting to commandeer the ship of state need to be held accountable, but it must be done by that which has helped America survive nearly 250 years: Regular order and strong institutions.