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Love to loathing: Politics online

Scott Brown, the Massachusetts former beefcake centerfold who came out of nowhere and got elected to the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in a landslide, launched his career in that august body by casting a vote based on what he felt was the right thing to do rather than marching lockstep with his party’s position of dogged obstructionism and partisan gridlock.

What a concept.

But talk about fair-weather fans. Adoration turned quickly to condemnation — mere hours after his vote that helped thwart a filibuster, those who had just a month earlier hailed his election as akin to the second coming were lobbing verbal A-bombs across the Internet.

Liar, Fraud, Judas, Piece of Garbage, Traitor — those were among the more restrained of the epithets. In the ultimate ignominy of the social media era, it was reported that as a result of his perceived calumny scores of thousands of FaceBook account holders had dropped him as a “friend.” Oh, woe. And the Twitterers’ frothing tweets were a tour de force of potty-mouthing conciseness (hmm, let’s see how many obscenities we can cram in 140 characters).

Now, though, he apparently has regained some of his luster and is a hot item on the speaking circuit.

Such is the state of Capitol Hill politics today. Obstructionism and adversarialism make a mockery of constructive dialogue and cooperative effort in the public’s interest. Vilification and character assassination trump rational discourse. Little wonder that in recent weeks there has been a parade of honorables heading for the exits.

As of this writing, a dozen senators have announced plans to retire, the second highest number in 75 years, including Evan Bayh of Indiana, who lamented the “institutional inertia gripping Congress,” its “strident partisanship, unyielding ideology, corrosive system of campaign financing, gerrymandering of House districts, endless filibusters,” and “a caucus system that promotes party unity at the expense of bipartisan consensus.”

In the House, 18 Republicans so far have said they’ll hang it up and 15 Democrats, including four of the moderate, fiscally conservative Blue Dogs coalition, among them Rep. Marion Berry of Arkansas, a long-time staunch supporter of agriculture (and a master at skewering inflated congressional egos with his aw-shucks down-home humor).

Not all those bidding farewell have been as forthright in their reasons as Indiana’s Bayh, who, while acknowledging “politics has always been a bare-knuckled sport,” says “in the Senate now, the forces of gridlock are greater than ever; the extremes in both parties are the most dynamic elements. At the end of the day, people expect us to get things done — but this constant all-or-nothing situation constantly leads to nothing.”

The disenchantment with lawmaking apparently works both ways. Never have so few been so disliked. A just-released NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed just 17 percent of registered voters approve of the job Congress is doing. That’s right: 17 percent.

Not exactly a rousing endorsement.


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