No let up on D.C. rhetoric

If you count yourself among the group of Americans that thinks the rhetoric that is coming out of Washington, D.C., has reached an extremely low point, you are not alone.

As a matter of fact, you can count Douglas Applegate, a person who spent his career in public service, as sharing your sentiments.

“Well, I’m really ashamed about the actions of both the Republicans and Democrats. There’s no more camaraderie,” Applegate said during a recent telephone conversation.

Applegate, who is enjoying his retirement in Spring Hill, Fla., is in a position to know what he is talking about. The Steubenville native spent 34 years as an elected official on the state and federal levels, the last 18 representing our area in the House of Representatives.

He said he remembered that there were some real back-and-forth battles during his tenure in Washington, but the tone then was very different. That’s when Tip O’Neil, a Massachusetts Democrat who served as House speaker, and Bob Michel, an Illinois Republican who served as minority leader, shaped the discussion in Washington. They didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but there always was a sense of respect for the work they had been elected to do.

“That all changed after the 1994 elections,” Applegate explained. “And it’s been going downhill for some time.”

The lifelong Democrat represented our area in the Ohio House of Representatives from 1961 through 1968, when he was elected to the state Senate, a seat he held until 1974. He succeeded Wayne L. Hays in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1977 and served until he decided to retire and not seek re-election in 1994. Bob Ney followed him from Eastern Ohio to Washington.

News coming out of Washington lately has not been good, and there’s plenty of blame to go around. The two most recent examples are the government shutdown, which lasted for 16 days, and the ongoing fight over Obamacare, or the Affordable Health Care Act. Those battles are taking a toll on many levels, Applegate said. While politicians are losing ground in the court of public opinion, the country as a whole is not doing much better, he added.

“President Barack Obama is caught up in the middle, of course,” Applegate said.

“All the Republicans are calling him a liar – they have never used this language before. We’ve lost respect for the president, and that does not speak well for America,” he explained.

Applegate said there are two factors at work in all of the discussions about health care. The first, he said, were the computer glitches that made it very difficult for Americans to sign up for health insurance . The second was in the act itself, and Applegate said the best way to proceed would be to let it go into effect and then work on fixing the problems.

Whether or not that can be accomplished given the highly partisan flavor of Washington politics remains to be seen. That attitude might be the biggest problem facing our country right now, and no one seems to have an answer that would turn the debate more civil.

“It’s going to take a while,” Applegate said when asked about changing the tone in Washington. “I don’t know what the solution is. It’s going to take people who are willing to walk across the aisle and discuss the issues.”

Whether or not that’s going to happen anytime soon is anyone’s guess, but Applegate says its something that needs to occur.

“They’re just going to have to learn to live together, and they’re just going to learn to work together,” he said.

That’s good advice from someone whose been through the rigors of Washington politics.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)