U.S. Rep. Mike Ross held a press conference Monday morning to announce that he would not seek re-election to his Fourth District congressional seat in 2012. In typical Ross fashion, he pleased no one. News of his decision broke on social media networks like Twitter while reporters waited on Ross to show up. Once the news broke, people from both the right and left started to moan.
Within one hour of his remarks, the state Republican Party sent out a statement berating Ross for being a "rubberstamp for President Obama's economic record of high unemployment, runaway debt and spiking gas prices."
A tweet from Republican State Party Chairman Doyle Webb chastised Ross — who sided with conservatives more often than many Democrats would have liked — for running scared, his "tail caught between Obama's liberal policies, Arkansans looking for true conservative [sic]."
Some Democrats made the argument that Ross's departure would ultimately hurt the party, leaving the Republicans with an advantage in the next election, which is probably true.
So, Ross speaks, no one's happy. That's typical. But if you listened to his remarks, something was a bit different. Ross took a harsh stand against Republicans' unwillingness to compromise on the debt ceiling talks in Washington. He told reporters: "They say they won't even consider reducing the subsidies for the top five oil companies, for corporate jets, for companies that ship our jobs overseas. In my opinion that's being unreasonable. And that's why polls show 58 percent of those that self-identify as Republicans even thought that the Republicans [in Congress] weren't doing enough to find some common ground and compromise."
That's not exactly an I-knew-Jack-Kennedy-and-you-sir-are-no-Jack-Kennedy moment, but it's a far cry from the GOP-talking-point-spewing Mike Ross who assured CNN viewers in 2009 — thank goodness — that he would "never vote for a bill that killed old people."
Ross also said it was going to be "fun" now that he didn't have to worry about fundraising. The pressure to constantly raise money was a "huge burden off" his shoulders.
For that moment, that one tiny instance, Arkansas progressives could hold out some hope for what Mike Ross could possibly, but probably won't ever, be: free to take a more definitive stance on Democratic issues, free to ignore the Tea Partiers and the Blue Dogs and really stand up for the hard-working and low-income people of the Fourth District.
But that only lasted for a moment. When asked whether this newfound sense of freedom would change the way he governed during his remaining 17 months in office, Ross shrugged his shoulders and said, "I'm still the same guy."
The vitriolic reaction from the Republican side didn't make much sense. Instead of saying, "Thank you for reaching across the aisle, echoing our talking points and voting with us on so many of our pet issues," it was more like, "Don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out."
After all, Ross was right there with Republicans when they voted to let the estate tax expire, approve Bush's second round of tax cuts and authorize two wars. His stubborn demagoguery on health care nearly derailed attempts at reform. If there was ever a Democrat they could get behind, he was it!
But it's never enough.
Ross told reporters, "I'm fed up with Congress. I went there to find common ground. I'm very frustrated with the divisiveness and the highly charged partisan atmosphere that we find in Washington today."
That is to say, when you spend your political career bending over backwards, you get a back ache. Ross could learn a thing or two from one of his former colleagues from the Arkansas delegation, Blanche Lincoln. There were probably a lot of reasons Lincoln lost her senate seat, but one of the biggest problems was her reluctance to take a stand on anything in an effort to please everyone.
Say what you will about Ross's Blue Dog political philosophy — whether you think it's good natured collaboration or selfish capitulation — the man tried to find some sort of middle ground. He made a few friends and a lot of enemies but he did make efforts to get something done in a town where that's nearly impossible. The only problem is that just doesn't work when the other side consistently exhibits behavior akin to a third-grader taking his ball and going home because all the other kids won't play by his rules.
Republicans have drawn a line in the sand. You want to try to pass some kind of health care reform? No. Raise the debt ceiling? No. "Compromise" is weakness, and it's not in their vocabulary. That makes Washington a tough place for people who have tried to build their careers on cowardly concepts like consensus building, working out differences and coming together for the good of the country.