Will the Connective Text be “&”or “Vs.”?

I am watching for the installation of the incoming 116th US Congress with great anticipation. Also, with a mix of great hopes and no small amount of trepidation. The potential for the country going forward is great. The risks are not miniscule.

As one looks at the roster of incoming new members, there is much to celebrate. The diversity, motivations, and life-experiences coming on line are impressive to say the least. We are gaining more of just about everything we need. More women, more veterans, more people of color, a much broader generational spread. In so many ways, this reminds me of what I refer to as The Class of Watergate. Following Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, a whole new generation of reformists and activists came to Washington. A generation of good, effective legislation followed that served this nation well. One hopes for a similar result in this round. Goodness knows, we need it.

But I want to ensure we also celebrate many of those who are returning. Their experience, patience, and contributions are every bit as important as what new arrivals bring. I was reminded of this recently in an interview of Senator John Tester with Rachel Maddow a few days ago. Here was a guy who won a state carried by Trump with over 20 points. Trump made multiple trips to Montana as a personal mission to defeat Tester, as the leading Senator who pointed out that Trump’s personal doctor may not be the best candidate to lead the second largest agency in the US Government. Senator Tester had his best win ever. Think a guy like that has something to offer his party about winning and relevance in “forgotten country?” I think so. Catch the interview here – it’s a very good conversation with a thoughtful man.

So, let’s cut to the chase. If the new Congress turns into an old guy/new guy running battle, all is lost, including 2020, for the Democrats. If, on the other hand, both groups come to the table with the idea that everyone brings what is needed, then prospects, even with only controlling one house of Congress, are excellent.

The way everyone worked with settling in on Speaker Pelosi is a good sign. Everyone talked, people actively looked for middle ground, and the result is about perfect. If I was not such a humble guy, I would think they all read the Agents of Reason blog on this very subject (NOV 19 –

Finding middle ground will naturally be more difficult for the new comers. They are, after all, new at this. Many ran hard on campaigns about change. They can honor those campaigns and still work with others. I hope they will. A few suggestions might be helpful:

  • As hard as it may be to believe, politics did not start with you and it will not end with you. You bring so much energy, promise, and new wisdom. But be careful not to get too full of yourself. A little humility is not a bad thing. What you don’t know at this point is staggering.
  • One new Congressperson has already said something along the lines of “I didn’t come here to be nice.” That is unfortunate. You will find it is possible to be passionate and still not be an A-hole. If you define yourself as the constant finger pointer, not willing to work with others with whom you are not in full agreement, you will get a lot of media, but accomplish very little. Take a look at Ted Cruz’ record for a tip to what follows that model. Yeah, he squeaked through reelection, but he has nothing to show for his first term. He will have even less for his second term. Being on a team has much value in democratic politics.
  • As members of Congress, you have an interesting challenge before you. Will you choose to represent only those who voted for you, or will you burn calories reaching out to and finding issues to support the rest of your constituents? If the latter, you will have a natural foundation to work with others of your party in Congress who don’t have exactly the same agenda you carry in your heart.
  • Lastly, I would bet it has not fully sunk in for many of you that you now have a key role in defining your party nationally. Your conduct and speeches will say much about how broad and deep (or narrow and purist) your party will seem to the nation. Are you more interested in completing your A-List agenda, or in getting much done while being a party of genuine national governance? Not easy choices, are they?

This is not to give a pass to those in the current leadership. If the lower tiers of party leadership in Congress don’t start looking quite different in 2019, trouble is ahead – and will be deserved. If the leadership is not refreshed, broadly and deeply, by 2020, the old guard will have squandered the future of their party in order to hold on to power. That would be a shame.

I saw this week that the Democratic leaders in New Jersey were about to pass a pretty comprehensive gerrymandering/power rigging suite of legislation. Nothing on recent Republican scales, but odious enough. The governor hated it, but they intended to pass it anyway. Then, something very interesting happened. Newly activated and empowered progressives rose up and fought it on multiple points. They made it clear they hated gerrymandering of all kinds, not just the Republican variety. They called out those who would repeat the ways of old. And they won. The citizens of New Jersey were well served by the new generation and the old generation was put on notice. Good on them. May we see more of that.

2019 is a new day. The Trump administration is already going into free fall on multiple counts. The country needs Democratic leadership that is up to the challenge like we have not needed them for over 50 years.

I am convinced next year will be a major one in US history. Books will be written on this round. Fingers crossed that we, and those would lead us, are up to it.

Bill Clontz, Founder, Agents of Reason      Bill Clontz

If you find this blog worthy of your time and curiosity, I invite you to do two things:

(1) Join the conversation. Your voice counts here.

(2) Share the word about this post with friends and colleagues. Share a link in your emails and social media posts. Let’s grow our circle.


Your Turn to Comment