Ships Crossing In the Night

In the night of July 25, 1956, The Italian liner Andrea Doria was steaming off Nantucket towards New York. Seventeen hundred passengers and crew were on board. Heavy fog reduced visibility.

Another ship, the Stockholm, was headed in the opposite direction on the same sea lane.

Both ships saw each other on radar, and both crews implemented avoidance procedures. But by a navigational quirk, compounded by human error, these very procedures put them on a collision course. A short time later the Stockholm, at full speed, rammed the side of the Doria, making a huge breach.

The Andrea Doria sank in the morning, with a loss of 52 lives. The Stockholm stayed afloat.

The Andrea Doria disaster seems a good metaphor for our current political situation. We also have two “ships of state” heading in opposite directions, in what could be well described as a heavy fog:

The President is going at full speed, confident that his well-laid plans for immigration-reform-by-executive-order have clear sailing ahead.

The Republican Party leadership, on their part, appears to believe that their non-confrontational, steady-as-she-goes approach will maintain or even enhance their current electoral advantage.

The passengers and crew – U.S. citizens or hopeful alien residents – have put their confidence in their respective captains and are looking forward to a happy landing.

The fact is, however, that we have never navigated these waters before. There are few, if any, charts for a political situation beyond the Constitution’s borders. Visibility – meaning our understanding of where we really are – is poor. The economic weather is very uncertain. Somebody in the halls of power could easily miscalculate, and land the country on the rocks.

The courses chosen by the protagonists – the president and congress – do not promise “smooth sailing”, but quite the opposite.

Concerning the president, there is already much debate as to whether his latest – and some previous – executive actions are constitutional. Whatever the outcome of that debate, the fact is that, faced with a solidly Republican congress, he is likely to continue governing by executive fiat.  This is simpler and more effective in the short term, but also engages on the slippery slope of ruling by decree. Every step in that direction leads closer to a flagrant breach of the Constitution.

The Republican leadership has an analogous problem. They can, in the short term, continue their “smooth sailing” without coming up with a credible program to attack the nation’s problems – a program likely to cause a direct confrontation with the executive. But such a neutral stance goes contrary to the reason they were given an electoral majority in the first place (which is to fix things), and will in time cause a rapid erosion of voter support.

We must not underestimate the dangers this “active gridlock” introduces in our national life.

First, the Constitution is not just an “honorable, high-minded historical document”. It is the foundation of how the country works – the Operator’s Manual of the United States of America. Once we lose it we are, as a country, powerless, rudderless and blind, headed for anarchy.

Second, we do not elect representatives to devise the smoothest way to acquire political advantage, but to do the will of the people. If the last election and polls show anything, it is that the people want the issues facing the nation addressed and worked out.

If we had an abundance of time, wealth and good will at our disposal, we could, maybe, sit back and let things be.

We do not have such luxury. The nation is badly polarized. Our national security, our economy and our infrastructure are in a state of decay.

The time for political games is over.

Born in Poland, Jacek Popiel was educated in Africa, Canada, and the United States. He speaks five languages. His career spans military and international business development in the Soviet Union, Eastern and Western Europe, North America, and Japan. He is currently a freelance writer and political consultant. His book “Viable Energy Now,” grew out of his military and international business experience and his professional involvement with energy issues.


  1. The author states that for the newly elected Republican Majority:
    “such a neutral stance goes contrary to the reason they were given an electoral majority in the first place (which is to fix things), and will in time cause a rapid erosion of voter support.”
    If you voted for the Republican Majority expecting them to take real action and compromise enough to govern, you have just not been paying attention for the past 6 years. Many of the proposals put forth by the President and the Dem majority were largely patterned after proposal that the Republicans themselves had proposed and supported…..until they were proposed by the “other” side. The sad part is that their 6 years of absolute and unyielding obstruction was rewarded by 17% of the people. Today shows yet another example of their personal ideology trying to trump the will of the people. Over 70% of the people in DC voted to approve recreational marijuana, but the new Republican Majority in the congress is trying to strip them of their will with a ridiculous provisdion slipped into the non-related government funding bill. So much for honoring the “will of the people”!….. And they have the gall to blame the President for a “my way or the highway” attitude! Stunning hypocrisy.

  2. Helen sabin says:

    To the responder above – NONSENSE! You wanted MJ legalized to use it and are “pissed off” that you cannot feed your habit.

    Here are THREE examples to show you do NOT know of what you write.

    1. The GOP NEVER wanted the constitution trampled on like this President has done and he has even been slapped down by the courts!

    2. The GOP and President BUSH stated that if the troops were withdrawn from Iraq we would be going back in…guess what?

    3. The GOP NEVER drew red lines in the sand that disappeared as quickly as a drink does for an alcoholic.

    And to the author of this article – I like the idea of the states determining the salary and benefits of their representatives …we might then have their attention to make sure they serve US, their constituents, rather than the parties – such as REID and PELOSI do for the DEMS.

  3. Frank Shannon says:

    Congress has passed more bills in the last few days than they have in quite some time including the crominbus spending bill. These are early indications that they are trying very hard to get things done.

    Only the far-left and far right objected to the cromnibus bill. The rest swallowed hard and did their job. This is what compromise (getting things done) looks like. For my part, I hope they can continue to work together as our Founders intended.

Speak Your Mind