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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Broken Government -- The Need For a Centrist Movement

As American political parties attempt to take complete control of the government and get everything they want -- in the process, creating a monopoly on what they selfishly perceive is "good for the country" --  the yearn for total domination as Charles Wheelan, senior lecturer and policy fellow at the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College, points out, is analogous to the goals of the Sunni and the Shiite branches of Islam.

In the face of being called a traitor or a Jihadist sympathizer (which, of course, I am not), I agree. What is wrong with the government is not the presidency of Obama or of Bush, not the view of the liberal or of the conservative, not the party of the Democrat or of the Republican; but the incessant partisan commitment of those in the Congress that creates eternal divisiveness. I, for one, am sick of it. And, I also see it as corrosive and potentially deadly to the ideals of Democracy.

In America today, most people acquire enough resources to get at least a decent portion of "what they want" from the government. Yet, that is not good enough for the mass of polarization. They are used to finding slanted support and daily grooming from talking heads that beg them to view everything as black-and-white and good-or-bad, and they have been conditioned to blame the opposition for all their problems and difficulties. Finding an unbiased source in the middle is nearly impossible.

The result is the lack of public confidence in government. We now have a government divided, not united. Two distinct sides now view important issues and stand behind their unwavering views supported by party "big guns" whose purpose is to hold office, build the party, and secure a forceful, narrow-minded monopoly of a single platform. 

Wheelan expounds on his views ...

"This (quest for domination) is a ridiculously bad plan. First, from a practical standpoint, neither party is going to win 60 votes in the Senate, and without 60 votes in the Senate, neither party will get everything it wants.

"Second, from a philosophical standpoint, neither party should be able to dominate the other. We should not pass major legislation if it cannot attract even a few votes from the minority party. It’s not fair to the minority, and it’s not durable. (See the Affordable Care Act.)

"So our two major parties really don’t have a plan — at least not a good one. Meanwhile, the political ill will generated by this all-or-nothing approach is ruining our capacity to do even basic bipartisan housekeeping (e.g. confirming judges)."

(Charles Wheelan. "The Plan That Beats No Plan." U.S. News

1. Build a movement of pragmatic problem solvers who are fed up with the partisan dysfunction. Define what it means to be a centrist in America.

According to Wheelan ...

"Centrists ought to stop defining themselves using a political spectrum that no longer has any meaning. Instead, the political middle ought to start from scratch, building a set of guiding principles that:

1) make sense;
2) appeal to the large and growing segment of Americans who are disaffected with the two-party system; and
3) embody the tools necessary to deal with America's most serious policy challenges."

(Charles Wheelan. "Do You Belong in the Political Middle?" U.S. News. Jan. 06, 2014.)

You can even take his Centrist Pledge by clicking here:

 2. Use that organization to influence a handful of key U.S. Senate races.

Wheelan describes the organization ...

"This is the leverage point: 50 states of centrists focused on supporting pragmatic problem solvers (Republicans, Democrats or independents) in targeted races. When the U.S. government works, the Senate tends to lead. And when the Senate leads, it always begins with some bipartisan 'gang.' So elect people who are likely to be part of that gang."

3. Scale up the model.

Wheelan defines the scaling ...

"Support moderate, pragmatic candidates wherever they happen to emerge. Build a sustained movement that can push back against the entrenched partisan interests. The bigger and better organized the movement, the more good candidates it will attract. And the more good candidates it attracts, the more powerful the movement becomes. And so on."

My Conclusion

A centrist movement toward a political middle that uses pragmatism, negotiation, and compromise is desirable. Given the present sad state of affairs, I would even say it is essential. In a system filled with little opposition, America is unjustly controlled, but in a system with so much opposition that the wheels no longer turn, America languishes in stagnation.

Changing the aim of government from overwhelming partisan control to bipartisan pragmatism is a tall order in the 21st century when television-fed voters seem to relish blaming opposing party scapegoats while refusing to research independently the issues. Yes, I am a firm believer that we have become a nation of listeners and viewers that prefer sound bites over substance, easily swayed toward polar opposition by our own laziness.

Now, public confidence in government may be at an all-time low. A national exit poll conducted by Edison Research found that a majority of voters disapproved of Republicans and Democrats alike, and only 20 percent trust Washington to do what’s right most or all the time.

Oh, how political times have changed. In a recent article (2011), David Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic and the chairman of Policy Exchange, reminisces ...

"When Tip O'Neill retired in 1987, he was asked how the quality of people elected to Congress had changed in his 30-plus years of service. The former Speaker of the House answered: 'The quality is clearly better, much better.' But, he added, 'The results are definitely worse.'

"He meant: as compared to the Congresses of the 1950s, the Congresses of the 1980s contained fewer drunks and fewer crooks. Members were better educated and harder working. Yet the Congresses of the 1950s managed to balance the budget, confirm presidential nominees in reasonable time and enact programs, like the one that created the interstate highway system. The Congresses of the 1980s could do none of those things.

"And of course the contemporary record is even worse. This past summer, Congress very nearly pushed the United States into an unnecessary default. Another government shutdown looms. The budgeting of the United States is in chaos. The Federal Reserve has been left for months with two vacancies on its seven-member board because of secret holds by individual senators.

"Politics is a contest, limited by certain unwritten rules. And over the past two decades, old rules have broken down."

(David Frum. "Why our government is broken." CNN. September 26, 2011.)

Political scientists Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal have charted the attitudes of the political parties back to 1879, and they found party polarization in recent years to be greater than at any time since their charts began. Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times, says ...

"Politicians have also figured out what works for their own careers: playing to their base, denouncing the other side, and blocking rivals from getting credit for anything. Since many politicians are more vulnerable in a primary than in a general election, there’s not much incentive for compromise... Yet we also get the national government we deserve, and that’s an indictment of all of us."

(Nicholas Kristof. "America’s Broken Politics." The New York Times. November 05, 2014.)

Broken voters produce broken lawmakers and, in turn, those politicians perpetuate a broken system. We, the people, are, indeed, the ones to blame. We are at the root of the decisions to hug the poles of polarization and to blame the opposition for a lack of centrist actions. We need to change.

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