I had an interesting, excellent conversation last week. The exchange was with my counterpart who provided the Republican analytical color on election night, as I did the Dem color for the CBS affiliate here. We got into a discussion about how the policy makers could start working more closely together to begin ratcheting down the hyper-partisanship that’s occurring in the Capitol – any Capitol.
She correctly pointed out how hard that is to do. Politicians and partisan operatives are all about the red meat right now. If your opponent makes a gaffe, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter et al are set up to pounce on the mistakes and show that your side is right and the other guy or gal, well – they’re just stupid.
Adding to this dynamic are the true believers on both sides of the aisle. Both Dems and R’s have em. These are folks, however well intentioned, who believe that it’s their way or the highway. That the word negotiation really has four letters in it. They are also the folks who vote – always – and will punish a politician for any slight, real or perceived to their puritanically pure position. All of this is real and it exacerbates the partisan divide that we face in this country.
To me a great question is how do we get out of this rut?
I think a good starting place is a series of recommendations laid out by a b-partisan group of ex-Senators including Senators Daschle and Lott. They had several ideas, which I thought were terrific. Among them are:
1) The President (and Governors) should hold monthly meetings with Congressional leaders. I would add that the conversations should not be public but who shows up and who DOES NOT should be made public. I’m told Scott Walker does this but not everyone shows up. Okay show up guys and if the President or Governor start not convening the meetings, print that too.
2) ALL political contributions should be disclosed. Until the public knows who’s behind a politician there will be skeptisim towards the entire process.
3) Congress should have a five-day workweek. Now one can argue that they work 7 days as many members come back to their Districts and are always working. What the intent is here is to have them work in Washington, side by side, 5 days a week with much more emphasis on getting things done in DC than being visible back home.
4) Americans 18-28 should commit to one-year full service to their communities or the nation. I couldn’t agree with this more. I listened to the nice young lady who does my hair talk about how she has no interest in voting or politics as it doesn’t effect her life. She’s probably right except for the roads she takes to work, the laws that allow her to work the taxes that are collected and perhaps paid back to her, the licensing requirements for her profession, the safety of the food and drink she consumes, the fact that she had to go to 12 years of school – you get the point. Bottom line if 18-28 year olds had to do a year of community service you can be damn sure that they’d pay a lot more attention to this country not to mention societal benefits that could accrue.
5) The commission also recommended that there should be a national primary day. I’d add that election day should be a holiday, as it is in other parts of the world, or an election week or moved to Saturday (all of these recommendations were also part of a recent editorial in the MKE Journal Sentinel and I totally agree with them.
I think these all-great ideas! I’d also add one another, redistricting should be handled by a non-partisan commission to draw fair and balanced lines. Back to the conversation on election night and my friend and colleague’s correct observation about partisans engaging, is that we’ve drawn Congressional Districts to support the Incumbent. Doesn’t matter what party, every member is trying to make their districts safer for them so they keep adding red or blue votes. But what happens when they leave office? Well if you’re in a Republican District you run to the right. If you’re in a Democratic District you run to the left. Over time we are electing folks further and further to the right or the left as that’s what the Districts support. As a result, in many Districts it’s the primary voter who matters. And who are the primary voters? Well it starts with true believers who punish their members for puritanical weakness, otherwise known as compromise. All of this is a formula for continued hyper-partisanship.
Bottom line, there is a way out of the hyper partisanship but it will take strong leaders from both parties to get there and that won’t happen unless they hear from the public in a clear and unambiguous way.
All this being said, another pal reminded me on election night about Democracy: it is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. So true!