Yesterday, B and I attended a public debate between our two candidates for the U. S. House of Representatives. The incumbent, a Republican, is Brian Fitzpatrick, a freshman Congressman running for re-election. His Democratic challenger, Scott Wallace, is from an old political family (his grandfather, Henry A. Wallace, was vice president under FDR from 1941 - 1945), but is himself new to elective politics.
There's good news and bad news. I'll tell you the bad news first -- or at least it's a bad sign, in my opinion. As we walked into the auditorium at our local university, the ushers handed out flyers to everyone entering the building. These flyers did not offer biographies of the candidates, or summarize their positions.
Instead, they were a warning to the audience: "Respect the candidates by refraining from interfering with the program . . . Refrain from standing up, raising signs or creating other distractions. Refrain from applauding or demonstrating support or nonsupport for a candidate . . . If you do not adhere to these rules you will be asked to leave today's event."
Maybe some people will think this message infringes on our free-speech rights. But I take it as a sign of the times . . . that we the public can't be trusted to behave in a responsible manner, and even as adults we have to be admonished to act civilly and respectfully to other people.
Even so, during the debate there were several outbursts of applause, for both candidates. The Democrat got a couple of "unauthorized" rounds of applause when he went after Donald Trump. The Republican got one when he made an impassioned call for bipartisanship.
Several times the moderators -- a man from the Chamber of Commerce and a woman from the League of Women Voters -- had to ask the audience to quiet down. But there were no signs, there was no shouting from the back of the room, and nobody had to be escorted from the building.
I will admit that my opinion of Congress, in general, is pretty low. How can it not be if you read or watch the news on even an occasional basis? So my expectations were low. But both B and I came away with the impression that these candidates were good, responsible people, both showing good intentions and espousing good government.
Maybe it's because we live in a swing district, in a swing state, but both candidates went out of their way to decry the ultra-partisanship in Washington. Both pledged to try to work in a bipartisan manner, to reach across the aisle and try to find common solutions for our country's problems.
There were some differences. But they weren't extreme. The Republican is an ex-FBI agent who made a point of emphasizing that he's a member of a bipartisan caucus in the House, with 24 Republicans and 24 Democrats, who are trying to agree on solutions and offer legislation to solve our problems. It's called the Problem Solver Caucus
. He realizes that 48 representatives, out of 435, is not a majority. But he hopes that the caucus will expand over time and develop into a serious power in the legislative process.
And then the Republican went on to call his opponent a liar. So . . . while I like the idea of bipartisanship, I'm not sure I'm buying it entirely. The Democrat charged that the Republican wants to cut funds for Social Security and Medicare. But Fitzpatrick said that was a lie, that he has no plan and no intention of cutting Social Security.
Wallace is a wealthy lawyer who apparently inherited a chemical company fortune, and has spent a good part of his career running his family's non-profit foundation. When he rose to criticize the Trump tax bill as a giveaway to the 1 percent, which Fitzpatrick voted for, the Republican countered that his opponent is a part of the 1 percent, and would most likely pay more tax under the new bill than the old tax law. The Republican challenged his opponent to release his tax returns, which apparently the Democrat has refused to do.
The Republican was unabashedly pro-growth. He insisted that the corporate tax cut only brings the U. S. corporate rates more in line with other countries, and will allow U . S. companies to compete better on the international stage. That, he claims, will lead to a better economy, more jobs, and more federal revenues.
The Democrat claims that if we raised the corporate tax rate by just 1 percent, from the current 21 percent to 22 percent (the new tax law brought the corporate rate down from 35 percent to 21 percent) we would have the money to solve the entire student debt problem that burdens our youth. He also recommended doing away with the ceiling on the payroll tax for Social Security, to shore up Social Security and Medicare, and so the rich will "pay their fair share."
Both are in favor of some additional gun regulation. But the Republican skirted the issue of banning assault weapons, while the Democrat proposes installing bio-markers on guns so only the owners could shoot them. (That's the only way, he said, that the Newtown, CT, mass shooting could have been avoided).
The Republican is in favor of term limits. The Democrat is not. However, the Democrat pledged that he would self-limit to three terms, if elected. Both say climate change is an important problem and both are in favor of green energy, but the Republican wants to shift to wind and solar over time, while the Democrat wants an Apollo-like program to switch to green energy right away.
Both candidates are in favor of providing more financial support for education, infrastructure and the criminal justice system in order to rehabilitate and educate prisoners.
Both candidates presented themselves as moderates. Is that I good thing? I think so. But I do remember, back in the 1990s, when members of Congress got along better than they do now, a lot of people criticized them for being too much alike. You could vote for Tweedledum or Tweedledee. It didn't make much difference.
But that was then. This is now. I'd be happy with either Tweedledum or Tweedledee, as long as they work together to solve some of our problems.
Sure, there was political gobbledegook during the debate. And they did challenge each other, sometimes pointedly. But they both behaved in a civil and responsible manner -- more civil and responsible than the organizers feared that the audience would be. Which, maybe, is a good sign.