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Posted at 11:56 AM ET, 07/07/2011

Sweeney, Christie, that head-punch and star-crossed bipartisanship

“This is all about him being a bully and a punk,” raged New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney in a rant against Chris Christie, the state’s governor, that shot ‘round the world this weekend. “I wanted to punch him in the head.”

Sweeney was not done. He called him “a mean bastard who screws everybody,” compared him to “a bank robber taking hostages. And now he’s starting to shoot people,” and added that he was a “rotten [probably unprintable].”

And frankly, I was relieved. This viral tirade was just what was needed to restore sanity and common decency to the New Jersey statehouse.

Things had been getting entirely too collegial lately. Sweeney, a Democrat, provided vital support to the Republican governor’s agenda, throwing his weight behind measures such as a property tax cap and reshaping public employee benefits and pensions. It was worrisome. Working with people across the aisle? There was no way he’d make it to statewide office with a record like that!

He was long overdue for some sort of vitriolic rant.

Thank heavens, too, that his language was so explosive, because some parts of the tirade have the melancholy ring of a bipartisaner scorned. Christie had used his line-item veto to nix Democrat-supported propositions and it stung. “Last night I couldn’t calm down,” Sweeney said. “To prove a point to me — a guy who has stood side by side with him, and made tough decisions — for him to punish people to prove his political point? He’s just a rotten bastard to do what he did.” He went on: “I sat in my office all day like a nitwit, figuring we were going to talk.”

It’s rather poignant. He doesn’t call? He keeps you waiting by the phone? No wonder you feel like punching him in the head.

This isn’t a case of enemies spitting at each other across the aisle. This is a dolorous tale of star-crossed bipartisanship. It almost makes one ache.

The world is not ready for this sort of thing.

We expect our public officials to have the same kind of maturity and common decency that we do, and we are the people who leave misspelled, angry, eRraTicalLY caPiTaliZEed comments on blogs comparing everyone who disagrees with us to Hitler or Stalin.

“Don’t shake his hand! Spit on it! Why are you reaching across the aisle?” we screamed. “I saw you, you filthy bipartisaner! Collaborating to pass legislation that you think will benefit the state? Is that what they’re calling it nowadays? Get off my lawn!”

Holding divergent, deviant opinions is a choice, and that choice is wrong. People who disagree with us? I don’t want to be around them, and neither should you. It might rub off. And then where would we be? Talking reasonably to one another? Listening? Having polite public discourse and not threatening to shut the government down every six seconds? Next we’ll be buying matching turtlenecks and skipping through the park holding hands! And then cable news might implode.

Thank God Sweeney saw the error of his ways. A return to incivility was just what was needed. Now he’ll probably go on to be senator — or governor — or president! The sky is the limit. Collegial and willing to compromise? You’ll never make it in politics. Not in New Jersey. Not anywhere. We just aren’t ready for that.

By  |  11:56 AM ET, 07/07/2011

 
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