Iran debate shows dwindling respect for principled opposition

Sen. Susan Collins speaks with reporters in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday after announcing she would vote to disapprove the Iran nuclear deal. Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Sen. Susan Collins speaks with reporters in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday after announcing she would vote to disapprove the Iran nuclear deal. Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Recently, a disturbing trend in American politics has become stunningly clear: the inability of many on the left to show any kind of respect for those with whom they disagree. It is not just that they have a tendency to vociferously defend their position; that would be fine. It is that they seem to question the motives and integrity of anyone who disagrees with President Obama.

Now, this is not to say that there aren’t plenty of folks on the right who have stepped over the line in their criticism of President Obama; there certainly are. If activists on the left were just forcefully responding to that kind of unfair attack, that would be acceptable. Instead, though, they’re attacking measured, responsible elected officials merely for disagreeing with the president.

We saw this recently with the deal that President Obama claims will rein in Iran’s nuclear program. The president has compared Republicans who oppose the Iran deal to Iranian hardliners, and his supporters have accused opponents of being partisan warmongers. The problem that Democrats have with this line of attack is that it’s not just every single Republican member of Congress who opposes this deal: several prominent Democrats do, as well (including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer).

So, in fact, it’s not support for the deal that’s bipartisan, but opposition — and this is only the latest White House initiative for which this is the case. Each time this happens, the administration is able to successfully paint its opponents as knee-jerk partisan naysayers. The truth is, however, each time the administration has made very little effort to reach out to the other party: rather than attempt to negotiate with them, they have merely attacked its members for disagreeing. This began with Obamacare, when Olympia Snowe was blocked out of the discussion by Harry Reid, and it has continued throughout this administration.

Here in Maine, this strategy was on full display as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced her opposition to the Iran nuclear accord. Liberals immediately attacked her not only for being against the agreement, but for the timing of her announcement on the eve of the vote. Maine Democratic Party Chair Phil Bartlett, in a snide, childish tweet, implied that Collins was just waiting for the outcome to be set before making a decision.

Rather than timing her announcement strategically, Collins was taking the full time afforded her before the vote to examine a complex international agreement. As she so often does, she carefully considered all the factors before making her decision, rather than rushing to judgement like many of her colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Had this been domestic legislation, she might have made an effort to find a compromise (and likely been rebuffed by Democrats), but in this case that wasn’t an option. It’s this kind of careful deliberation that has earned Collins the respect of voters across the state.

Rather than disparaging this kind of thoughtful governance, we should be encouraging it for all of our elected officials, regardless of their party or ideology. If more of those in public office took this kind of approach, on the left and the right, we might be able to find some workable solutions to this country’s problems.

This happened when Bill Clinton was president, but so far it hasn’t happened under Obama. Despite the rhetoric of Democrats, it’s not just Republicans who are to blame, but the White House as well. It may be too late for this president to change his approach, but whoever is elected to succeed him would be wise to reach out to the other party in a real and meaningful way if he or she wants to get anything accomplished.

Jim Fossel

About Jim Fossel

Originally from Alna, Jim Fossel has volunteered with a number of campaigns over the years, including for Peter Mills for Governor in 2006. He previously worked for U.S. Senator Susan Collins and House Republican Leader Josh Tardy.