American Statesmanship is Not Dead

Hickenloop and Kasich

October 12, 2018

By Glenn Nye

Extreme partisanship, we are often told, is the new normal. Americans are sorting into clusters of the same opinions, we choose our media diets so that discordant views never enter our partisan echo chambers, and the major political parties have gotten so adept at gerrymandering that, in essence, our representatives choose us rather than the other way around.

There is much truth to these charges, unfortunately, but they miss something very important about the American people: Most of us do not conform fully to the political agenda of either party. While the simple satisfaction of tribal purity seemingly rules the day, our success as a country requires leaders who are brave enough to forge the consensus our Founding Fathers made necessary in the blueprint of our government.

ADVERTISEMENT

Unfortunately, our current system rewards politicians who appeal to narrow partisan constituencies that demand ideological rigidity. This wins elections. In the last two decades, the number of “swing” districts that are likely to shift from one Congress to the next has fallen by two-thirds. Is it any wonder bipartisanship have largely disappeared on Capitol Hill?

With these broken incentives, dysfunction is baked into the system. Politicians in both parties run for election with seemingly bold proposals to fix major issues, such as aging infrastructure and ballooning debt, that never seem to make it into law. The American people see this failure, along with the inability of Congress to execute even the basic functions of government such as passing timely budgets, and they grow even more discouraged. That disillusionment explains why a majority of Americans have little or no confidence in Congress or in either of the major parties.

At the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, we have launched a Commission on Civility and Effective Governance. Our commissioners, including former elected officials from both parties, executive branch officials, political advocates, and business leaders, have spent decades thinking about what constrains lawmakers and shapes their behavior for better and worse. We are developing recommendations for political reforms that make government more responsive to the needs of its citizens, and rewards politicians for pragmatism over partisanship.

Our recommendations will promote the kinds of changes our country needs to get government working for the American people rather than for partisans. The challenge we face is that the people we need to implement those changes are our current elected officials, who have been rewarded by our current system. That it is so important to recognize politicians who, even in this dysfunctional dynamic, are practicing the civic virtues which we hold dear. This month we honored Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Governor John Kasich of Ohio for their willingness to look beyond party in search of pragmatic yet effective solutions in their states and their advocacy for bipartisanship across the country.

These governors on opposite sides of the aisle understand how choices made Washington directly impact the lives of people in their diverse states. They have worked together to advocate for health care reforms that stabilize insurance markets, increase coverage, and control cost. They have demanded trade policy that looks forward to promote an innovative economy and relief for people hurt by escalating tariffs.

Most importantly, both have taken a proactive stance against gerrymandering. In Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper is supporting a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to prohibit partisan gerrymandering. Governor Kasich has called for reform of redistricting in Ohio that passed in the state legislature and a ballot initiative earlier this year. Both initiatives seek to promote bipartisanship and compromise in one of the most highly charged political process issues we face.

These are exactly the kinds of hard choices that we should be encouraging. It is difficult to overstate the power that partisans wield when drawing district boundaries for seats in Congress. The American political system thrives instead when good citizens place country above party. Redistricting reform alone will not solve all the problems we face, nor will two state governors reaching across the aisle. But this is an essential first step. Governors Kasich and Hickenlooper are doing crucial work to ensure that our democracy truly reflects the will of the people.

The award the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress gave to Governors Hickenlooper and Kasich is called the “Publius Award.” Publius was the pen name that Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay used when writing the Federalist Papers, the collection of essays supporting the adoption of the Constitution.

They had wildly different political views, but they came together to advocate for the reforms that created the country we live in today. They knew that a democratic system that required compromise was the best safeguard of liberty in a country as large and fractious as ours, and the best assurance that politicians served the broadest good for the citizens. More than 230 years later, we are proud to see leaders who still do.

Glenn Nye is the president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He represented Virginia in Congress from 2009 to 2011.

This piece was originally published on TheHill.com

Opinions

Commentary | Energy Was On The Ballot This November
Opinions
Commentary | Energy Was On The Ballot This November

Two years ago, Democrats won back control of the U.S. House by nominating largely moderate candidates in swing districts who ignored litmus test issues like the Green New Deal and refused to be defined by extreme economic and energy policies like bans on fracking.  Two years... Read More

Abolish Electoral College? Sure, and Why Not Let ‘Majority Rule’ on the Bill of Rights?
Opinions
Abolish Electoral College? Sure, and Why Not Let ‘Majority Rule’ on the Bill of Rights?
November 18, 2020
by John Kass

When we were kids on the playground and there was an angry dispute, someone would always shout “majority rules.” And we’d vote. If the losers didn’t like the outcome, there were two options: punch the winners in the stomach or take the ball and go home.... Read More

Now More Than Ever We Need Science, Not Politics
Opinions
Now More Than Ever We Need Science, Not Politics

The global COVID-19 pandemic, with all its devastating consequences, has reaffirmed why science must be at the center of policy considerations, political debate, and media attention. But, lamentably, it is often at the center for all the wrong reasons. Against a backdrop of growing tensions and... Read More

Can Biden Heal America When Trump and His Allies Don’t Want It Healed?
Opinions
Can Biden Heal America When Trump and His Allies Don’t Want It Healed?
November 9, 2020
by Robert B. Reich

In case you missed the news, Joe Biden was elected president of the United States. With almost all ballots counted, Biden has more than 75 million votes and Trump some 71 million. The Electoral College isn’t even close. But Donald Trump still has not conceded, and... Read More

The Election of 2020 Has Ended at Last
Opinions
The Election of 2020 Has Ended at Last
November 7, 2020
by Leonard Pitts

Forgive me for being the ant at the picnic. Certainly, this is a glad moment, an ecstatic and delirious moment. The election of 2020 has ended at last. Joe Biden is finally the president-elect and Donald Trump is finally consigned to the dank well of ignominy... Read More

Make America Big Again
Opinions
Make America Big Again
November 7, 2020
by Make America Big Again

Fans of Donald Trump typically say, “I wish he wouldn’t tweet so much, but I like his policies.” As you peel back more layers of the onion, they really mean they like his tax cuts and conservative appointments to the federal judiciary, but wish they didn’t... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top