I had the pleasure yesterday of hosting Georgia Republican Congressman Tom Price on campus. (He happens to be my Congressman, now that my neighborhood has been drawn out of Georgias 4th District, which for many years returned Cynthia McKinney to Congress.)
Price, in case you dont know, is one of five prominent medical professionals in Georgia politics (hes an orthopedic surgeon; Phil Gingrey is an OB-GYN; John Linder and Charlie Norwood are dentists; and Sonny Perdue is a veterinarian). Im almost ready to tell my students interested in politics to major in biology.
But seriously folks....
What I found most interesting about his presentation was a subtle distancing from the Bush Administration. There was no overt criticism: the closest he came was in referring briefly to a smarter way of waging the war on terror. His three big domestic issues were energy independence, immigration reform, and health care.
On immigration, hes a "secure border first" guy, but he couches his position in a way I hadnt heard before. Of course, hes realistic about the needs of our economy, but hes also realistic about the needs of our polity. We must, he argued, engage and enfranchise those within our borders to make certain that they understand what it means to be an American. Our current arrangements might be economically tolerable (my words, not his), but theyre not civically tolerable (my interpretation of his words). "Hear, hear!" I say (if I heard and understood him correctly).
He also spoke at some length about partisanship in Washington, D.C., which he contrasted unfavorably to his experience in the Georgia state legislature (where he served eight years, the last two as the first Republican majority leader in the state senate since Reconstruction). The best day in D.C. is like the worst day in Atlanta, from the standpoint of partisanship.
He offered two explanations for this phenomenon: the way districts are drawn facilitates partisan extremism; and the fact that Congress has essentially a Tuesday - Thursday workweek, which keeps informal social contact among members to an absolute minimum. Im only somewhat persuaded by the first explanation. Hes surely right that safe districts reduce the need to reach across party lines to find votes, but there is the question of character. He strikes me as a sensible guy, hardly a fire-breathing partisan, yet he represents an exceedingly safe Republican district. The other point deserves more consideration than I have time for right now, but it also gets to the issue of character and civility.
Dont we, in the end, get the representatives we deserve? (If so, I must be doing something right.)