Eventually the political gridlock will break. Will it come from a cataclysmic event or by someone reaching across the red/blue divide?
By Carl Petersen
When I first moved to California, earthquakes seemed to be a regular occurrence; they were a constant reminder that the ground is never solid beneath us. Twenty years ago at 4:30 in the morning all hell broke loose with the magnitude 6.7 Northridge Earthquake. The shaking seemed to go on forever as I sat in a darkened doorway only a few miles from the epicenter with a baby in one arm and a shaking, 50-pound dog in my lap, listening to transformers explode outside and the contents of my house breaking inside. I really hoped that this was the “big one” that all Californians know will come some day because I could not imagine something worse.
In contrast to my first years in California, the time since the aftershocks to the Northridge Quake ended has been relatively free of seismic activity. Memories fade with time and complacency takes hold. Yet the plates are still shifting and at some point another quake will strike.
When analyzing politics, people also seem to get lulled into the false belief that the status quo will remain the norm. After the electoral disasters of Carter, Mondale and Dukakis, there was much talk about how the Republicans had a permanent lock on the White House. However, with Bill Clinton, the liberals lost their grip on the party just as the far Right increased their control of the Republican party. The result has been that the Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the past six Presidential elections. Only a fool would state that we have entered a condition of permanence, but a change would most likely require either a sudden loss of control by the moderate wing of the Democratic party or an actual move back to the center for the Republicans. Running the former moderate after they have capitulated to the base during the primaries does not count.
In the legislative branch, the status quo has been a seemingly permanent state of gridlock. With the Democratic majority in the Senate unable to overcome the unprecedented use of the filibuster and a gerrymandered House that views compromise as a weakness, legislative accomplishments have been few and far between. Moderates have become an endangered species as they lose their primary battles to opponents who are more ideologically pure, thereby depriving the Congress of the people it needs to build consensus between those of opposing viewpoints. Problems ignored do not simply go away; the pressure just continues to build. One day it will just explode with destructive force.
Unlike with tectonic plates, we do have the ability to relieve political pressure before destruction occurs. However, this will require the electorate to rise above ideology and focus on individual ideas. While sticking to our core beliefs is an admirable trait, it seems that too often we treat our political parties like sports teams and judge success on wins instead of solutions. To move in this direction, a greater percentage of the population needs to vote in the primary elections. In this way, politicians are not always forced to move appeal to the base in these elections only to moderate their positions for the general election. We must also encourage our representatives to rise above politics as usual.
Last month I attended a meeting of the North Valley Democratic club whose purpose was to discuss who we would endorse in the race for California’s 25th Congressional District. From the questions that were asked, it was very obvious that the majority of the participants had serious concerns about NSA activities and supported the actions of Edward Snowden. Still when it was Evan Thomas’ turn to speak about Snowden he answered, without hesitation, that “I believe that he is a traitor". To me, this answer signaled that Thomas was unwilling to compromise his beliefs to get the endorsement of the club. A more seasoned politician may have finessed an answer that did not draw attention to the difference in opinion, but we have enough of those. Thomas’ willingness to state his disagreement, and to explain his rationale, should be commended.
While some may have trouble reconciling Thomas’ Democratic affiliation with the fact that he spent 28 years in the military, they forget that the military has sometimes been on the cutting edge of our changing social fabric. When I asked him afterwards if there was a politician that he admired for an action they took even if it jeopardized their chances for reelection, he answered that it was President Truman for “ordering the integration of the military after WW2. He knew it was the right thing, and did it.”
I also asked him for his thoughts on the subject of ideology and received the following response:
“Ideals are essential, as they power and motivate our most significant efforts. However, when ideology becomes a weapon against others, it can be terribly destructive. Our American Constitutional system was brilliantly devised to allow everyone to champion their own ideals, while preventing the ideology of the majority from being imposed on the minority. Elected officials must have ideals they aim for, and root their decisions upon. But when ideological purity prevents solving problems, then no one benefits. Finding an acceptable path to solutions that find a balance between competing ideologies is the way America works.”
This represents an important change in tone from how politics is currently conducted. If Thomas plants a seed, it is a win for our country no matter what the results are on election day.
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