- - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The United States Senate has a long and justly celebrated tradition of comity and respect among members. Although there have been occasional exceptions throughout history, on the whole, senators have taken great care to treat each other with courtesy and respect, both in private discussions and in public deliberations.

We do this for several reasons. First, because mutual respect is essential for us to be able to work together to forge consensus on difficult issues that stir deep and sometimes divisive feelings. Passing meaningful legislation typically requires the two parties to work together, and that, in turn, requires trust and a certain level of good will. Courtesy and decorum foster an atmosphere that allows us to work in good faith to find common ground as we develop legislation that appeals to all Americans, not just those of a particular partisan or ideological persuasion.

The second reason to treat each other with courtesy and respect is that it is the honorable thing to do. We come to this body as 100 men and women with vastly different backgrounds, life experiences, and views on how government should operate, but share a common desire to improve this great nation and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. We divide into parties and join caucuses. We fight passionately about matters of tremendous consequence. But we remain colleagues and treat each other with respect. Squabbling and sanctimony may be tolerated in other venues or perhaps on the campaign trail, but have no place here.

The third and most important reason we treat each other with courtesy and respect is because we are the people’s representatives. We are not here on some frolic or to pursue personal ambitions; we are here because the people of the United States have entrusted us with the responsibility to act on their behalf in shaping our nation’s laws. This is a high and holy calling. It is not something we take lightly. We are here to do serious work. In doing this work, egos will inevitably be bruised and feelings hurt, but we are here to serve the people, not our own egos.

The Senate plays a special role in our constitutional system. In contrast to the more raucous, populist House, the Senate was designed by the Founders to be a body of deliberation and reasoned judgment. Senators were to seek the common good and consider national, not just parochial, interests in crafting legislation and considering nominees.

Decorum is essential to executing this constitutionally ordained role. Deliberation and reasoned judgment require an atmosphere of restraint, an atmosphere of thoughtful disagreement. Deliberation without decorum is not deliberation at all; it is bickering. And bickering is beneath this body.

Regrettably, in recent times, the Senate floor has too often become a forum for partisan messaging and ideological grandstanding rather than a setting for serious debate. It has been misused as a tool to advance personal ambitions, a venue to promote political campaigns, and even a vehicle to enhance fundraising efforts — all at the expense of the proper functioning of this body. Most egregiously, the Senate floor has even become a place where senators have singled out colleagues by name to attack them in personal terms and to impugn their character — in blatant disregard of Senate rules which plainly prohibit such conduct.

To bring personal attacks to the Senate floor would be to import the most toxic elements of our current political discourse into the well of the Senate, into the very heart of this institution. This would serve only to pollute our deliberations, to break the bonds of trust that are essential for achieving some measure of consensus, and to invite the dysfunction that so saturates our media and popular culture into this storied chamber.

As one who has had the privilege of serving here for the past four decades, I can attest from firsthand experience that the Senate can be and has been in times not too far past a distinguished and constructive body that does much good. I recall vividly times when this body was marked by good will rather than rancor and disrepute. In some respects, the Senate today is but a mere shadow of its former self, another casualty of the permanent political campaign. This is deeply disheartening to those like myself who were here to experience this body’s better days, and it has severely damaged the proper governance of our nation.

I have seen so much of what I love about this body frittered away in recent years for small-minded, shortsighted, partisan or ideological gain. My long service in the Senate and my current role as president pro tempore have made me a dedicated institutionalist. But we should all care deeply about this institution, its traditions, and its future — and want it once again to work in service of the common good.

Orrin G. Hatch is a Republican senator of Utah.


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