Is there any way to restore civility and a spirit to compromise in Washington, D.C.? Alas, not soon was the consensus of an all-star cast addressing the topic Tuesday night at the Washington National Cathedral.Senate Chaplain Barry Black, top White House adviser David Axelrod, former White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), CBS anchor Bob Schieffer and presidential historian Michael Beschloss agreed that the tone of politics is coarse, strident and polarized.Under the gothic cathedrals vaulted apse, there was a lot of analysis of the problem, agreement and lamentation that the climate is getting worse, but precious little in the way of solutions except to hope that the public eventually demands that it change. Collins, one of the Senates most moderate and consensus-prone Republicans, summed up the situation by saying, Politics as the art of compromise is woefully out of fashion.Sitting with those with opposing views, negotiating in good faith and attempting to reach solutions is often vilified by hard-liners on both sides of the aisle.Reaching solutions is not the goal for many today. Rather, its to draw sharp distinctions and scoring partisan political points, even if that means that problems confronting our country go unsolved.Perhaps, she said, thats why the public is so dissatisfied and angry with incumbents of all political persuasions, especially those in charge.Actually, the latest Washington Post/ABC poll shows voters approve of Democrats in Congress slightly more than Republicans, 36 percent to 30 percent. But they still favor the GOP over Democrats in the elections, 49 percent to 43 percent. And they are unhappy with the way the federal government works by 71 percent to 29 percent, with 46 percent saying they are merely dissatisfied, while 25 percent are angry.Schieffer, moderating the Axelrod-Bolten panel, said he had been covering Washington for 41 years and a meanness has settled in our politics lately thats worse than Ive experienced.Black said theres more civility in the Senate than people realize, but he cited as examples only the 20 to 25 Senators who gather weekly for prayer breakfasts, nine or 10 who do Bible study and big attendance at Senatorial funerals.Ive found that lawmakers reflect whats going on off the Hill, he said. If theres vituperation off the Hill, the lawmakers indulge in polarizing behavior.The two White House officials observed that Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush entered office promising to bridge partisan differences, but they did not succeed. Bolten blamed the contested 2000 election. Axelrod blamed Republicans, contending they decided to oppose Obamas policies regardless of his efforts to negotiate with them or even adopt some of their proposals, such as tax cuts.After the November elections, there will be a lot more Republicans in Congress, Axelrod conceded. But he contended they would not control either chamber, and he said, Well make every effort to work with who is there.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.