More partisans than statesmen
“Democracy is the worst form of government,” Winston Churchill said, “except for all the others.” This divisive, surprising and raucous campaign season frequently reminds us of the wisdom of the great man’s observation.
The gridlock and polarization plaguing our democracy predate this campaign, of course. For years now, the loudest, angriest and most insistently uncompromising voices have competed to dominate our national discourse with appeals to narrow interests rather than common bonds.
Our politics are producing more partisans than statesmen. On the right and left, candidates and activists emphasize their identity as adherents to a party or ideology or interest group rather than devotion to our shared identity as Americans.
Some of this reflects technological trends that empower self-expression as never before but can also contribute to the fragmentation of American society. Some of it is exacerbated by the growing diversification of media that often means citizens are not exposed to views differing from their own. Some of it is sustained by the tactics political parties employ to entrench their advantage, tactics such as gerrymandering, the reliance on big, ideological-driven money in political campaigns.
In a pluralistic polity like ours, to govern is to seek common ground. And yet, a reflection of that reality has grown awfully scarce in our political debates. Both parties maximize their base’s turnout often at the cost of repelling more pragmatic independents and moderates. When you consider a spirit of cooperation to be some kind of character flaw, you sacrifice the ability to govern and sow the seeds of dysfunction.
Our repeated failure to make significant progress on the major problems facing our country, more than anything else is fueling the growing anger and despair Americans outside Washington feel about government’s incompetence. Yet the loudest voices in both parties insist the problem is politicians who aren’t inflexible enough, and that ideological purity is paramount.
Traditionally after elections, statesmen have built bridges to colleagues on the other side of the political aisle in order to make progress on national challenges. Together they propose solutions that balance and benefit from the policy views and principles of each side. This does not guarantee success. There is no panacea. But since the Constitutional Convention, it is the only approach capable of reconciling the different views and interests of a diverse people. Today, the perpetual campaign that is Washington and the toxic partisanship it breeds does far more to compound our differences than to reconcile them.
We need a national force that can begin to counter these trends, that speaks for the majority of Americans who want their leaders working across party lines to overcome gridlock and address national problems. That’s what No Labels is in business to do, and I’m proud to join their cause. We are proud Democrats, Republicans and independents from all over the country, who advocate for and try to engender a new politics of progress and problem solving in our government.
Our parents’ and grandparents’ generation confronted the Great Depression, fought World War II and won the Cold War. They knew there were things far more dangerous to our republic than the other political party. So do we at No Labels. We have our differences. We are loyal to our principles. But we share a common identity, too.
There are many countries in this world today where people think of themselves foremost as members of something other than their nation. But not here. We’re not Iraq nor Afghanistan nor Syria. We’re Americans, a nation founded on an idea and not a tribe or a religion or a political party. And we face common problems -– a sluggish national economy, crippling national debt, crumbling national infrastructure, and the threat of terrorism – to name a few of the more obvious.
In filmmaker Ken Burns’ masterful Civil War series, the late historian Shelby Foote reminded us that while “Americans like to think of themselves as uncompromising, our true genius is for compromise. Our whole government’s founded on it.” Indeed we were.
No Labels is working to remind our leaders of our nation’s true identity and to propose ideas that employ our historic strength, our genius for finding common ground solutions, to meet the biggest challenges of our time. I’m honored to be part of it, and to join with my fellow Americans to prove again, as each generation of free people must prove, that self-government is still the “best” government.