A democracy that doesn’t work and can’t be fixed

A couple of decades ago, Tim Penny rather shocked some learned Washington observers when he decided not to run for re-election to Congress. The Waseca DFLer left the hosts of the McNeil-Lehrer report on PBS fairly speechless when he said he couldn’t make a difference in the job.

How on earth, they wondered, could one of only 435 people in one of the most exclusive and powerful clubs on the planet be irrelevant?

The reaction in 1995 seems rather quaint now. Nobody makes much of a difference in Congress anymore.

Just ask Rep. Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican, who has thrown in the towel. He’s the guest today on the New York Times’ The Daily, where he mirrors, almost word for word, Penny’s revelation. The only difference? Rooney is in the party in power; Penny wasn’t.

What Rooney, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is basically saying would’ve shocked a nation just a few years ago: Democracy doesn’t work.

This week, Rooney called for an end to the investigation into Russian influence in the last election, not because he doesn’t think there’s evidence that Russia manipulated the democratic process, but because he thinks Democrats are using it “to manipulate the media of the day.” He says he doesn’t mean that to sound as partisan as it does.

Rooney is the one who asked Hope Hicks if she was ever told to lie about anything related to the Russia investigation. “The answer was ‘no’, but it already got out to the press that Hope Hicks had told ‘white lies’ for the president and that drove the media for the rest of the day.”

The media wasn’t in that hearing. Intelligence Committees are closed. Her comments were leaked.

“This is an investigation to see who can get to the media first to see who can make the other side look bad,” he said. He’s including his own party in the assessment.

“The [Intelligence Committee] used to be completely non partisan and what we did down there was a secret, and it was the one place of refuge in the House where you could go and check your party identification at the door because we were there to find out what our spies were doing and what we’re doing in the clandestine world in the intelligence community and help them do their jobs,” he said.

“There has been a complete breakdown of any kind of cordiality down there,” he told the Times.

It can’t be fixed, he says, acknowledging that maybe Democrats are saying the same thing about him.

But his assessment should be considered in a non-partisan fashion. If a democratic institution to assess and respond to threats to democracy can’t be fixed, what are we doing?

“I think it’s irreconcilable at this point,” he said.

To be sure, Rooney is a partisan. He’s convinced the FBI investigation of Russian influence is politically motivated and he defends the release of the memo from Republicans on the committee claiming so.

“It’s really kind of sad, given the subject of national security and the sanctity of our elections,” host Michael Barbaro said.

“Yeah,” Rooney said.


  • Paul Weimer

    Dysfunctional Democracy.

  • kevins

    He could ask the Chair of the committee to resign, but he won’t because they are party bros.

    • MikeB

      It’s easier to blame those not in control than, you know, actually try to do something effective.

  • Rob

    Welcome to our plutocratic, kleptocratic kakistocracy.

  • Mike

    It’s been clear for a while now that Congress is nothing more than theater for the masses. The real power lies with lobbyists and the so-called “deep state” – the collection of intelligence and military-industrial complex agencies that operate in almost total secrecy.

    This is a great read for anyone who’s interested. The author spent 28 years as a Congressional aide, but he doesn’t seem to pull any punches.


    The Russia investigation is a farce on many levels. It was clear as far back as the year 2000 that there were serious deficiencies in our voting systems, but the powers that be mostly paid lip service to any national effort. Faulty and potentially rigged systems were fine as long as the right people were doing the rigging.

    Nor is there much context given in any of the breathless reporting on this issue. The U.S. has meddled in the internal affairs of countless countries around the world, including Russia. We’ve murdered or overthrown heads of state, and instituted brutal police states that served American corporate interests. Because, you know….. democracy.

    Now we’re all supposed to be outraged by $100k of Facebook ads and some online Russian trolls – in an election where billions were spent. Pffft.

    Guess which group benefits from increased fear-mongering and tensions with Russia? (See above.)

    • >>Now we’re all supposed to be outraged by $100k of Facebook ads and some online Russian trolls – in an election where billions were spent.<<

      The investigation seems to be going a bit deeper than just the FB ads and trolls, but I agree with you that Congress seems to be "theater for the masses."

      /Thanks for the reading suggestion.

  • MrE85

    Whatever problems American democracy may have, I doubt Rep. Rooney has the solution. Enjoy retirement, Congressman.

    • Mike Worcester

      That pension will serve him well I am sure.

  • >>He’s convinced the FBI investigation of Russian influence is politically motivated and he defends the release of the memo from Republicans on the committee claiming so.<<

    “Politically motivated”


    This investigation is headed up by a man (Mueller) who has been a life long Republican, worked for four preceding Presidents, three of whom are Republicans, and appointed to the Special Counsel by a man (Rosenstein) appointed by Trump himself, who worked under Ken Starr on the Whitewater investigation and was himself appointed to a US attorney position by President G. W. Bush, yet this clown thinks that the Russia Investigation is “politically motivated” by the Dems.

    Well, OK then.

  • John O.

    //not because he doesn’t think there’s evidence that Russia manipulated the democratic process, but because he thinks Democrats are using it “to manipulate the media of the day.”

    Both parties work mightily to manipulate the media, Representative.

  • X.A. Smith

    Politician leaves politics because politics.

  • AL287

    I remember when Tim Penny resigned and I was not surprised at the time. It was a warning that we have not heeded.

    The spate of recent retirements by long time members of the House and Senate, both Democrats and Republicans, the election of a man who is clearly hell bent on destroying what we have left of democratic principles as well as slowly dismantling our alliances overseas and long-time trade agreements is the sad, predictable result.

    The Russians were right when they said they would not have to fire a shot to take over the United States.

    These political wounds are all self inflicted. It’s open season on the United States.

  • Guest

    BECAUSE of gerrymandering the fight is in the primaries. Most districts predictable elect one party. SO the most partisan candidate wins because he does not really have to sway the middle. SO elected representative feel more loyalty to “their side” than people in the district. SO we have too many folks feeling “not compromising” is a good thing and shutting down government is just another lever of power……sigh 🙁

  • Guest

    “All it takes is 51% to get what I want, why would I care about the other 49%?”……sigh 🙁

  • Frank

    Did Russian spies put an email server in HRC’s basement and stuff it full of classified data? Did they put some of that stuff on Anthony Weiner’s laptop?

    Did they convince Trump to promise to put a Constitutional conservative on SCOTUS?

    ‘Cause if the did not do that stuff, they didn’t do anything to sway my vote.

    • Postal Customer

      They didn’t need to do any of that. Americans did that for them.

      What Russia did was throw gas on the fire. A lot of gas.

      • Frank

        They wasted their time and money in my opinion. HRC was hosing her own campaign down with napalm.

    • Your awareness of the items you outlined, the perceived severity and impact, and the overall lens through which you viewed those acts may have been influenced by Russian involvement.

      A lot of candidates have sketchy backgrounds…it’s the awareness and perception which sways a vote.

      • Frank

        I’m aware of what a Top Secret/SAP document is. And I know what a left leaning SCOTUS means.

        No Russian translation required.

        • The demonization of our political opponents seems like a time-proven method of destroying a democracy. Occasionally, we’re confronted with the opportunity to be introspective, and consider our own contributions to the downfall.

          We demur, because the demonization is much easier than the thoughtful, more productive alternative.


          • Frank

            Introspection? That’s pretty funny Mr. Collins, considering HRC spent the past year blaming everyone but herself and everything but her own hubris for her loss.

            But even that debacle didn’t really add to or subtract from Democracy’s failure. That is the fruit of decades of work by dedicated saboteurs, starting about the time Saul Alynski published his manifesto, and continuing through to the current year.

            I really don’t see anything that can stop the erosion.

          • I’m sorry, I’m missing the point. How does anything anyone else does change our own ability as citizens to avail ourselves of the opportunity for introspection?

            I mean, yes, I get it…. the Trump people think Hillary was evil. The Hillary people think Trump is unhinged. Got it. How could anybody miss it.

            What is anyone supposed to do with that to try to get a democracy to function? You’ve been singing the same tune on MPR forums and boards for, what, 20 years now. Your enemies have done the same thing.

            What is it you — and by you they, if they’re listening — believe comes from that to justify expending one’s life energies in the interest of the country in which we live?

            Actuarial tables say I’ll be dead within 15 years. I kind of want to see us all get off the hamster wheel.

  • Frank

    England is drawing the map for peacefully dissolving a political and economic union; recent events suggest Poland may join their exit. Personally, I think it’s time we start discussing a trip down that road.

    Democracy works, but only for people who share morals and a vision for the future. America is split 50/50 into camps so disparate, we trust masked burglars in our homes more than politicians from the other side.

    • Veronica

      The Brexit vote was the target of the same kind of cyber warfare from Russia the US was.

      • Frank

        Wow. Is there anything Russian geeks *can’t* do?

  • emersonpie

    I don’t know why we expect our elected government to work (definition, please) when it’s our voters who put them there. Nearly half of THEM gave the presidency to a man who was personally and professionally not suited for the job. We get the government we deserve.

    • Rob

      We got the POTUS that the Electoral College gave us.

      • 2 out of the last 3 Presidents elected received fewer popular votes than their rival.

        The US should scrap the EC…

        • Frank

          Right. And while we’re at it, we should go back to requiring proof of property ownership to vote.

          When it comes to proposing stuff that doesn’t have an ice cube’s chance in hell of ever happening, go big or go home.

      • MrE85

        The EC is just the process. The 23 million are the problem.

        • Rob

          I’m aware. My concern isn’t for the fact that 23 million voted for Cadet Bone Spurs; it’s for the fact that 26 million didn’t – and that our election process makes their votes basically irrelevant.

        • Frank

          “The problem”? You mean the people that didn’t vote for your candidate?

          The problem is, you don’t like the winner. That’s *your* problem, not the 23 million’s.

          I firmly, and sincerely believe that the electoral college is the only thing we have today that keeps the thread holding us together from snapping, just as it was when it was written into the Constitution.

          It’s a work of genius.

  • He didn’t say the investigation is needless at all; quite the opposite, actually. Did you listen?

    Also, he’s not talking about the Mueller investigation.

  • John F.

    ///“I think it’s irreconcilable at this point,” he said.///

    As a professional historian and writer, I cannot help but notice the similarities between now and the politics of the mid-nineteenth century. This type of dysfunction is nothing new to American politics. We do live in a different world with better technology, but the atmosphere seems roughly the same – a wide divide between philosophies, general disdain for the “other side”, and seemingly little room for future cooperation.

    Unfortunately, I also suspect that the result will be no less explosive than the American Civil War. I try to be optimistic that our nation can dig itself out of the current mess, but some days I feel hopeless. It seems like this sense of defeatism is pervasive across the nation, as cited in this post.

    Citing the Bible in a 1858 speech, Abraham Lincoln once said “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free”.

  • AmiSchwab

    nunes is a traitor

  • The headline should’ve had “until all comments sections are closed down” attached to it.