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Friday, September 20, 2013
It seems to be lost. Our nation’s political center is missing. That elusive spot on the political map where compromises once took place has disappeared. Washington has run out of not just financial capital, but political capital.
Why bother? It’s only politics? We should care because politics is the currency by which we govern. Without politics — and the compromises that take place at the political center — we cannot effectively govern ourselves. With the center gone, our ability to govern is missing in action, much like a battle is lost when the center fails to hold. Not sure? Ask any former member of the United States Congress.
What will restore the political center? No one really knows. Campaign finance reform and term limits both sound good. However, one restricts free speech and the other limits those most qualified to serve.
So what other options are there to help close the gap along our political spectrum? How about telling our elected officials that there is no need to fear extreme groups? Their job is to find solutions to our problems — solutions that are usually found in the center. Compromise need not be something to fear. Compromising does not usually require a loss of your principles.
However, compromise is not sought inside the Capital Beltway because there is no need to do so outside the Beltway. When a member of Congress represents a safe district (as most members do), why get into the nasty business of trying to knock heads together? Why seek to perform the dance of legislation with the other party when it may cost you your seat? Today, primary re-election battles are almost as common as battling the other party in the general election.
As for the rest of us, politics has become just another form of entertainment. We watch our favorite cable news channel not to be informed, but for gratification. We are told how right we are. And those fundraising letters in the mail don’t help us to better govern ourselves. Not when politicians write to tell us that the other side is up to no good and the sky will fall on America if you don’t send in $25.
Those are just some thoughts that crossed my mind after reading professor John Winfrey’s Aug. 29 commentary, “Rise against tea party libertarians.” My good friend and I see the political world from two different sides. Winfrey shoots straight from the left, and I try to reason from the right. Nonetheless, we agree that most Americans desire better and more affordable health care, immigration laws consistent with the American dream and continued progress on social justice, protecting our environment and getting our economy out of second gear. There are just differences on the best way to go about solving these major issues.
That way is not to place everything with which one disagrees in a black sack and call it the “tea party libertarian Christian right.” Respect and understanding are the two prerequisites to any fruitful agreement. Without them, why negotiate?
Both liberals and conservatives are frustrated with Washington’s inability to come together and take small steps to solve big problems. “Why can’t they get anything done in Congress?” is the cry, forgetting that Congress was designed to make lawmaking as easy as running a marathon, but with high hurdles.
Here are two ways to reach agreements in a heterogeneous country such as ours. One is to shrink it. Start practicing federalism. It’s right there in the U.S. Constitution. Amendment 10. We need to pay as much attention to what comes out of Richmond as we do to what comes out of Washington. Canada, my second favorite country, with its two languages and more cultures than time zones (six) would be ungovernable if it were not a federation.
Another way to resolve political differences is to recognize the limitations of government. Winfrey, it is fair to say, mainly seeks governmental answers to most, if not all, of our public problems. If there is one lesson I learned over 26 years working for the federal government in Washington, it was best expressed by Nelson Rockefeller, who served 14 years as governor of New York. A reporter once asked what qualified him to be president of all 50 states. “I know which government programs don’t work,” he replied. If only the rest of us knew.
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