Speaking Friday to the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Lauderdale, he decried “excessive partisanship,” and said the rise of instant communication, with less accountability than the establishment media of a bygone era has exacerbated the problem.
“The biggest challenge [in Washington], it’s the excessive partisanship. It’s the excessive ideological rigidity. It’s the lack of building consensus in a bipartisan way.
“It’s this attitude of it’s my way or no way. In a country as big and diverse as complicated as our country, unless you respect the other fella’s point of view and then try to work out your differences to build a consensus, then very little is going to get done. And that’s exactly what you’re seeing.
“We’ve always had raw politics in this country…. But communicationwas a lot slower. There was time for reflection. There was a respect for the other individual, even though back then, as you know, they used to settle arguments with a duel….
“The change, of course, is it used to be a weekly deadline, then it’s a 24 h our deadline, now it’s not even an hourly deadline. It’s a minute by minute deadline. And when you attach all of that to the rapid communication, to the changing nature of news, when you can turn on your TV and it’s entertainment, it’s not news, and it’s directed toward a particular point of view in the political spectrum.
“When you see that the position that newspaper editors in the past served as the fact checker before something would be printed to be distributed, and you compare that now with the ability to put something up on a blog and that gets circulated as if it is true. And sometime it gets picked up by the mainstream press as true.
“And you get the picture it’s hard for the public to determine what is true and what is untrue as you are trying to hammer out public policy and the direction of the country.
“And thus it leads us to a toxic atmosphere and one in which it’s quite different form the atmosphere when I went to Congress as a young congressman.”
He said he’s been trying his own brand of civility, especially as he’s gained some influence. At the Aging Committee, where he’s chairman, he calls the top Republican, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, his “co-leader” and lets her speak first at committee hearings.
On the Science and Space Subcommittee, where he’s also chairman, the top Republican is the freshman U.S. senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. Cruz is a favorite of the tea party who’s battled not only Democrats but members of his own party with a scorched earth approach toward achieving his desires.
Nelson said his first encounter wasn’t too positive. It was at an Armed Services Committee hearing on the nomination of former Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense. Cruz’s attacks on Hagel were widely panned.
“He stepped over the line and he impugned the integrity of Chuck Hagel,” Nelson said.
But Nelson used an olive branch when he learned Cruz would be top Republican on his committee (important to both Florida and Texas because of NASA.
“I went to him and I said, ‘Senator. Space is not a bipartisan subject. It’s a nonpartisan subject. The course of this country’s future space program is nonpartisan. That’s the way I run the committee. And I’m going to run it with you as a co-leader.
“I want you to know that Senator Cruz has responded in kind. And the two of us are getting ready to write the NASA reauthorization bill.”