Washington's toxic partisan atmosphere has claimed another victim: Rep. Steven LaTourette (R., Bainbridge) says he won't run for a 10th term because he can't take the lack of compromise in the U.S. House anymore.
Mr. LaTourette is not alone. Sens. Olympia Snowe (R., Maine.), Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.), Ben Nelson (D., Neb.), Kent Conrad (D., N.D.), and Jeff Bingaman (D., N. M.) also have decided not to seek re-election. Their decisions, at least in part, were based on Congress' inability to get things done.
Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of embracing the my-way-or-the-highway stance. But the right-wing fringe of the GOP bears primary responsibility. Tea Party types have made moderation the new extremism.
When Ms. Snowe said in March that she would not seek a fourth Senate term, Tea Party Express chairman Amy Kremer told CNN that compromise was bad because lawmakers who are willing to work with members of the other party are to blame for the deficit. "That's extreme," she said. "We cannot support people like that."
Mr. Lieberman, announcing his retirement, said: "I've always thought my first responsibility is not to serve a political party, but to serve my constituents, my state, and my country." No wonder he couldn't find a home in either party.
Compromise once was the lifeblood of American politics. Without it, there would not have been a Constitution, because compromise was required on such issues as representation in Congress and taxation. Compromise defined the powers of the executive branch, and whether there would be a list of individual liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
Politicians who excelled at compromise gained influence. Henry Clay was known as the Great Compromiser. Lyndon Johnson was famous in the Senate as a consensus builder and deal maker.
Then, compromise, give-and-take, and log-rolling were the way things got done in Congress. Now, party and ideological purity often are more important.
"The expectation," Mr. LaTourette said this month, "is if you want to go up in the ranks of either party, you have to give them your wallet or your voting card."
The result is a Congress that can't get anything done, that plays chicken with the nation's credit rating, and that is more interested in symbolic votes designed to make opponents look bad than real votes that accomplish something.
The result is $110 billion in looming across-the-board cuts in domestic programs and military spending, and the threat that expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts could derail the fragile economic recovery. The result is a Congress with a 12 percent approval rating.
As Representative LaTourette said: "The time has come for not only good politics but good policy." Things only will get worse if what Ms. Snowe calls the "sensible center" of American politics continues to quit out of frustration.