The Senate of today routinely jettisons regular order, as evidenced by the body’s failure to pass a budget for more than 1,000 days; serially legislates by political brinkmanship, as demonstrated by the debt-ceiling debacle of August that should have been addressed the previous January; and habitually eschews full debate and an open amendment process in favor of competing, up-or-down, take-it-or-leave-it proposals.
The great challenge is to create a system that gives our elected officials reasons to look past their differences and find common ground if their initial party positions fail to garner sufficient support. In a politically diverse nation, only by finding that common ground can we achieve results for the common good. That is not happening today and, frankly, I do not see it happening in the near future.
For change to occur, our leaders must understand that there is not only strength in compromise, courage in conciliation and honor in consensus-building — but also a political reward for following these tenets. That reward will be real only if the people demonstrate their desire for politicians to come together after the planks in their respective party platforms do not prevail.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, and reversing the corrosive trend of winner-take-all politics will take time. But as I enter a new chapter in my life, I see a critical need to engender public support for the political center, for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us.
You read about other politicians with the same concerns. Why has our politics become so divided? Is it a generational thing, and because of some mind-set of the baby-boom generation? It is the rise of cable television channels? A shift in our culture?
It is because of the increased centralization of power in the federal government. The federal government has too much power, too much money, too much control. Issues, decisions, and money that used to be distributed to the states and localities has now all been concentrated in Washington. The result is toxic.
With just 545 people (435+100+9+1) lording it over the activities and income of some 300 million plus Americans, gaining access to - or a sense of obligation from - one of these precious empowered few is poisoning our entire political and economic culture. The stakes for those involved are just too high. So every decision point, every angle, every advantage, has to be fought over in a herculean life or death struggle.
As long as decision making is increasingly concentration in the federal government, as long as the federal government intrudes into personal life, and long as business are dependent on federal regulatory whims, then politics will grow ever more fraught with corruption, manufactured partisanship and vitriol. The question is, will the trend towards centralization reverse itself before the system irrevocably breaks down?