We (at least many of us) have a romantic ideal of politics:
- open and free elections after a thoughtful and idea-dominated campaign;
- elected representatives bringing competing ideas and varied perspectives to the table but open to facts and analysis changing their ideas; and
- working together with good will, in “cooptition” (combination of cooperation and competition), to find areas of common ground and willing to compromise for paths forward that “satisfice” (satisfy most while sacrificing as little as possible) the electorate as a whole.
Ah, those magnificent days of loving bipartisanship of…of… well, they never existed (or, at least, hardly ever). Partisan warfare has (essentially) always, to one extent or another, been part of American political culture. Even with that simple reality, “today” is different. Truth be told, it wasn’t so long ago (I’m old enough to remember) when substantial portions of the nation’s elected representatives did find paths to work together, were willing to compromise when appropriate (or, at least, absolutely necessary). There was a time when, (such as when I was) working on Capitol Hill, the “middle” truly existed and it was “purple” — with a healthy mixing of Democratic and Republican Party elected officials — and that “bipartisan” middle could often be the “swing” in how legislation moved forward. Those glory days, however, sadly are too far behind us as a nation.
Amid the painful journey toward the dysfunctional dystopia of Trump’s occupation of the Oval Office and far-right Republican ownership of Congress, there have been many steps and missteps of error all over the place. Are there any true innocents other than the babe in crib? Probably not. That “everyone has made mistakes” along the road and isn’t “as pure as driven snow” does not mean, however, “everyone is equally to blame.” There is a simple, painful to hear for many and sadly too difficult for political journalists to say, truth: the Republican Party elite and its backers (whether Koch-funded ideologues or media or Fox News or …) have driven the nation’s politics down into a rathole.
Down into a rathole to where we face:
- A President — and immediate entourage (including the Vice President) — who almost certainly illegally colluded with Russia(n intelligence) during the 2016 election and quite possibly (probably?) merit being called (under a common understanding, if not the full legal definition) traitors.
- A Republican Party so intent on rewarding its benefactors that it passes hand-scrawled legislation, in the middle of the night, with essentially no opportunity for substantive examination of the bill’s implications, that will fundamentally restructure the economy, moving around perhaps $6 trillion (generally enriching further the uber-wealthy while making the lives of over half the population harder) and adding easily $1.5 trillion to the national debt.
- A “Right Wing” so lost in its ideological mania and hatred for “libtards” that they are embracing hebephiliac Roy Moore (who likely deserves prison time for his sexual assaults and predation against minors) against a dedicated prosecutor who has put people in prison for killing little girls.
Even given this reality, many progressives (“progressives”?) and Democratic Party politicians – not to mention the corporate media – bend over backwards to avoid blaming Republicans for the nation’s political problems. Too many seem to remain enraptured with “bipartisanship” as an objective in and of itself, a golden rule, rather than as a tool and means to help achieve better (or at least not as bad) policy and governance.
For too many Virginia Democratic Party politicians, the “Virginia Way” seems to be enshrined in “bipartisanship uber alles,” even as the Virginia GOP and the national GOP have moved so far towards extremism that the “center” between Democratic positions and Republican positions would have been right-wing Republican not all that long ago.
In many ways, Senator Mark Warner has been a poster child of this. His “both sides”/”reach across the aisle” run in 2014 is pointed to by many as a key reason – because it completely failed to energize the Democratic base – for how close the election ended up being for such a “very popular” politician. Even amid the current budget battle, for example, Warner took pains to highlight “bipartisan momentum“. When it comes to investigating #TrumpRussia, Senator Warner appears at time to be engaged in backflipping exercises to avoid pointing fingers (legitimately) at Republican “colleagues” for dragging their feet on (for obstructing) the investigation. Perhaps it reflects nostalgia for his time as Governor, when “bipartisan” action occurred on some major issues, such as taxes but that was with a very different Republican Party to than exists today.
Warner is far from alone. Some saw this sort of “bipartisanship” messaging in Governor-elect Ralph Northam’s TV ad saying he would be ready to work with Trump. Valuing of “bipartisanship” extends even to people who pronounce themselves progressive – and who indeed are progressive on many issues.
Two recent Thunderdome Politics interviews (Lindsey Stover (Stover interview) and Dan Helmer (Helmer interview; also Inside Scoop interview) with candidates for the Virginia 10th District Democratic Party nomination contest to take on Republican Barbara Comstock, sparked this discussion. Now, these are interesting interviews and both Stover and Helmer had compelling moments, are articulate, and laid out their cases in personal, professional, and issue grounds.
Thus, there is much that I respect about both of them and found things they said interesting and reinforcing of respect. And, I have no question that the citizens of Virginia’s 10th would have an actual representative Representative in the House if either of these candidates were to win the seat in November 2018 (unlike what currently is the case with Comstock). With that in mind, however, I felt a great frustration listening to these discussions.
In their interviews, both Stover and Helmer seemed determined to avoid saying (truthfully) “IT IS THE REPUBLICANS,” and instead spoke generally about how “the system is broken” and how they would change the dynamics. They asserted that the problem is “politicians in Congress seeking to score points,” rather than radical Republicans seeking total domination. This sort of “bothsiderism” framing is damaging and untrue. If “the system is broken,” then someone(s) broke it. Those at fault should be held to account. Failure to discuss this bluntly isn’t just wrong-headed, it is bad politics, and it blurs the truth that Congress is broken because the Republicans broke it.
Some simple truths:
- Climate science shouldn’t be partisan — yet it has become partisan (thanks to the fossil fuel industry and the GOP).
- Figuring out how to enable more to get appropriate education without massive debt shouldn’t be a partisan issue — yet it has become so (thanks to the right wing).
- Wanting to have fair, free, open elections and other attributes of Democracy shouldn’t be partisan — yet it is (ditto).
- Wanting to keep white supremacy and Nazis marginalized shouldn’t be a partisan issue — yet it is (ditto).
- Using facts, relying on experts, being truthful in political discussions, rather than relying on #AlternativeFacts, shouldn’t be partisan — yet it is (ditto).
- Supporting the 1st Amendment shouldn’t be partisan — yet it is (ditto).
- That Nazis are not “fine people” should not be partisan — yet, incredibly, it is (ditto).
- Wanting to protect the US government and elections from foreign, even hostile, intelligence services shouldn’t be partisan — yet, also incredibly, it is (ditto).
It is a partisan issue that we have such a disastrous tax bill. It is a partisan issue that CHIP has been cut. It is a partisan issue that DACA participants are living in fear. It is a partisan issue that…
And, despite what Dan Helmer said on Thunderdome, this not a “generational” issue either. Look at Representative Don Beyer, in Virginia’s neighboring 8th District, who may be young at heart but certainly is not “young” nor a newbie on the political scene. Yet despite his age, Rep. Beyer has been a vociferous fighter against Trump-ista corruption and disdain for the Constitution. Beyer has also called out House GOP members’ greater allegiance to the NRA than to the Constitution, even while he has clearly been prepared to work with Republican House members when/if they choose to pursue paths that promote the public interest. Meanwhile, look at the young Tea Party-ite members of the GOP. They are, in many cases, the most rabid, most extreme, most off their rockers (and that is saying quite a bit when we consider the rabid partisans of the Mitch McConnell vintage) in the entire party. So someone’s age (or “generation”), per se, is definitely not the issue here.
Why have things become – over several decades – so ugly partisan? It certainly isn’t because of “generational” changes. It certainly isn’t because of the Democratic Party. It IS because of an over-40-year campaign by the Newt Gingriches of the world, the Koch brothers, the Sean Hannitys, etc. that has transformed the GOP from a legitimate political party to a group of individuals who put party above nation, and define that party in ways at the highest levels that is a lie in terms of what the “electorate” hears from them. (See Michael Mann’s and Norm Ornstein’s superb 2012 article (reminder: before it got even worse as Trump’s GOP) which called out the GOP, accurately, as “an insurgent outlier in American politics…ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”)
While I am now a (distressingly) partisan Democrat, this has been forced on me through ever-accelerating Republican extremism and abandonment of reality on issue after issue (notably, in my domain, climate-science denial but also a dramatic shift from Richard Nixon creating the Environmental Protection Agency with a meaningful portion of the Republican Party truly concerned about the environment, civil rights…).
Thus, I, too, would like to see the nation move back to that bucolic “bipartisan” vision. But more realistically — and urgently — I expect political leaders to speak honestly about today’s realities as they lay out to solve problems and create opportunities for generations to come.
With that in mind, rather than vague “the system is broken” and “a new generation of leadership can fix it” messaging, here is the sort of message that I (and, almost certainly, others in the electorate) would like to hear from candidates and elected officials, including from the next Democratic Party nominee to be the Representative from the 10th district.
Let’s face facts, for a variety of reasons the Republican Party is broken and it is breaking American. It’s leadership has gone beyond extreme and is executing policies, across multiple agendas, that are hurting the nation.
There was a time, not all that long ago, where there were real differences between being a Democrat and a Republican but where serious discussions and debates occurred between the parties and a large share, on both sides, worked to find common grounds — to work together.
I recognize both these of these realities.
Today’s GOP is damaging the nation and that reckless, extremist agenda must be resisted.
Yesterday’s political circumstance better served the nation, providing a basis for — even if faltering — pursuit of a more perfect Union.
Thus, if elected, I will resist — I will fight for the best interests of VA-10 citizens, from today and into the future, and will not stand idly by when extremists subvert national security, when extremists pile on debt to enrich special interests, when extremists put fossil fools before our nation’s future.
If elected, I will do my part to try to help fellow citizens and fellow legislators get back to an era of active, serious communications between the parties.
If elected, I pledge to hold — unlike Barbara Comstock — regular open town halls and will be open to engagement from all of my constituents, even those who might be Republican and opposed to my positions. Let’s be honest, sometimes they might be right — and, in a Democracy, the citizen has a right to express their views to their Representatives.
I will seek to create at least one environment, per month, to try to foster increased bipartisan communication. These could range from social, seeking if there are those who will watch a football game together, to policy paths where I will seek out Republicans and Democrats who agree with me on specific issues to see if we can find common ground to move the nation forward on that issue.
As a freshman Representative, I will not be able to change the world alone. But, as a Virginia 10th CD Representative, I promise that I will stand up to the extremism that, sadly, emanates from the Oval Office and dominates too much of the Republican Party. I will keep my door open to all constituents — whether they agree with me or not. I will do my part to find and create paths to repair, even if just on the margin, the rifts that are tearing this nation apart. And, I will do my best — every waking hour — to repair the damage that Donald Trump and his Republican enablers have done to the nation and fight with every breath to help form a more perfect Union.
Forget “bothsiderism” pablum; the above is a message that resonates with me, reflects reality, and offers hope for tomorrow.