Donna Brazile: Voters want compromise across political lines
Only 10 percent of Americans believe Congress is doing its job, according to findings this week by Gallup. This ties the low-water mark of Congress from this past February, and that poll was the lowest in 38 years.
It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out the public’s low approval rating is directly tied to rigid partisan wrangling in Congress. Politics, which has always been our way of working out differences, has become an impediment not only to national unity, but to a functioning democracy.
It’s becoming clearer to voters that our dysfunction in Washington isn’t due to the sins of one party or the other, as we are repeatedly told by each party, but rather by the increasing choice of party members to refuse to compromise with the other side.
We’ve always had partisan politics — from the earliest days of our nation. Yet, with the exception of the Civil War, we rarely have realized the worst excesses of partisan divisions. That partisan divide was not along party lines, but along regional ones.
The genius of the American political system has been that the minority party usually has enough power to cause the party in control to incorporate some of its views into the making of laws, and governing the country.
However, the most significant development of the last 20 years is the willful loss of the spirit of respect for the opposition, and the stubborn refusal to compromise for the common good. As a result, the two major parties are today each a minority party. Moderate voters have fled both groups, gathering in the middle. They now compose the largest single bloc of voters by about 30 percent — the independents.
Interestingly, those voters who have fled the two parties have their own partisan leanings — they split about evenly as Democrats or Republicans. But they share a common bond.
“One clear factor that separates (independents) from Democrats and Republicans is a near-uniform call for greater cross-party cooperation. Seven in 10 independents say they favor compromise between the parties rather than confrontation. ... Just as many say they are dissatisfied with the country’s political system.” These are the findings of a Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation poll of over 3,000 adults, selected at random.
The study also found that independents are growing faster than Republicans or Democrats in several states, and in others, voters who identify as independents outnumber each party.
How did we come to be in such a fix? For some pundits, we often look pack at previous periods of political turmoil in our most recent history. Let’s start with former President Richard Nixon, who in his quest to handle the dissent over the Vietnam War introduced the concept of “positive polarization.” Simply put, that meant dividing the pros and cons over the Vietnam War into the “good guys and the bad guys.”
Democrats responded in knee-jerk reaction to the lop-sided characterization of them as always being in the wrong by becoming harsh partisans themselves. Over the course of several decades, both parties moved away from the moderate center. And moderate voters left both parties. Finding moderates to run and win in contentious primaries is also difficult these days.
Yet, being negative about your opponent is seen as an easy entrance to the partisan voter’s subconscious. Fact checkers have debunked Mitt Romney’s “Obama gutted welfare” ad, for instance, as completely false. So too, have they debunked the pro-Obama super PAC ad that seems to blame Romney for a woman’s cancer. Yet these ads, both lies, continue to run because in a partisan atmosphere, partisan people choose to believe them. And there is no loss of time in trying to win the daily news cycle.
What the Washington Post/Kaiser poll reveals, however, is that the deciding choice, when partisans split evenly (as they’ve done), will be in the hands of the less-partisan Independents.
These voters want the candidates to speak more respectfully of their opponents — and that includes the candidate’s celebrity and office-holder supporters. Above all, they want the dysfunction in Washington to cease. They want our leaders to seek consensus for the common good.
Independent voters are not interested in hearing how the other guy is to blame, or how bad his policies are. They seek respect for differing approaches, and are looking to elect the candidate who will cooperate and compromise with his opponents.
If voters want to see a real change in Washington, they’ll have to become more engaged in the electoral arena. It’s time for voters to ask candidates directly what they will do to help end the political stalemate and gridlock — to ask if they are willing to reach a working compromise on economic proposals.
But that will mean electing candidates who are disposed to compromise. Maybe it’s time to stop listening to those who insist the other side is so bad — for them, political salvation comes only with a switch to their philosophy. Maybe it’s time to elect common-sense, respectful, partisan politicians who will seek compromise for the good of the country.
DONNA BRAZILE is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.