the great divide

I can’t think of any other way to say it. Our government simply isn’t accomplishing very much right now.

Before the Trump-haters start cheering or his apologists take offense, I’m not talking about The President. This dynamic has continued to evolve in the last two administrations, Republicans making it their stated goal to obstruct Barack Obama at every turn, and now Democrats so unwilling to work with the Trump administration that they are calling themselves “The Resistance.”

It didn’t used to be this way. Politicians from both parties used to go after each other pretty hard during their campaigns, but even in the most contentious contests, once they were elected, they put the campaigns behind them and got on with the vital work of governing. The consideration of various issues did not involve who won or lost, only what was best for the American people. In fact, some of the best examples of legislative achievement have been partnerships that reached across the aisle:

  • Democrat George McGovern introducing food stamps with Republican Bob Dole to control costs and help the truly needy
  • Bob Dole again with Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan in an attempt to save Social Security
  • Bill Clinton working with a bitterly divided Congress to pass welfare reform
  • Conservative Orrin Hatch providing children’s health insurance with ultra-liberal Edward Kennedy
  • Socialist Russ Feingold creating campaign finance reform with maverick John McCain so neither side would view it as the other’s solution
  • Indiana Republican Richard Lugar collaborating with Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn on nuclear disarmament, and later with Illinois Democrat Barack Obama

That’s not the way things work today. I don’t know if it’s the Internet, Twitter, or 24-hour cable news, but we are now in constant campaign mode. Every issue is seen as an opportunity to win points against one’s opponents for the next campaign. We never get around to governing! I don’t know which side wins, but it’s the American people who lose.

We saw it in the last administration, when Mitch McConnell stated, “My number one priority is making sure President Obama is a one-term president.” And we saw it again during the recent health care debates, when every Democrat voted “No” on everything, and Republicans couldn’t find a solution to which 50 of 52 Senators could agree.

We’ve lost a number of elements critical to public service in this transformation into constant-campaign mode: no one is governing anymore, we aren’t making any progress on anything, and civility is completely out the window.

It’s this last point where I think the discussion needs to begin. Because politicians are in constant-campaign mode, they have to keep their bases energized, engaged, and most importantly, sending money. So they speak about those on the other side in the vilest terms, be it the Democrats who want to kill children through abortion or the Republicans who want to kill children by taking away their healthcare.

I’m pretty sure no one want to kill children. But how can the two parties be expected to work together when they talk about each other as if they were evil?

That’s where we’re going this week. With The Intramuralist away getting some much-deserved R&R, we’re going to do a 4-part series on how to quit talking about people who have different political views than we do as if they were mal-intentioned or misinformed. There are legitimate reasons one may choose to be liberal. There are legitimate reasons one may choose to be conservative. Following this introduction, we’ll explore each of these viewpoints.

One of these will come more easily to me. But I’m hoping you can’t tell which.

And I’m asking each reader not to focus on their own viewpoint and say, “Yeah, that’s right!” but on the other viewpoint and say, “Ok, I can understand why one might feel that way.”

Then in conclusion – and I don’t even know yet whether I can do this – we will seek common ground. Is it possible to focus on the things upon which we can agree rather than where we differ? Can we combine the best of each into solutions that would be better for all?

I don’t know. But we’re not making any progress the way things are. Let the journey begin….




Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash