Unbending partisanship won’t help solve problems facing the nation
Everything in moderation. That has always held appeal as a sound rule to live by, whether it’s giving myself permission to occasionally devour that beyond-decadent dessert or have just one more glass of wine (as long as someone else is driving). Avoid dwelling in the extremes and everything will be OK, right? I’ve found plenty of other relevant applications, such as trying to quantify for my preteen son just how many hours of video games would be considered excessive. Could this mantra also apply to our political discourse? Clearly that’s not the state of our nation right now. And it’s been especially true in so many recent discussions over healthcare policy and other health-related matters. In these times, maybe it’s best to borrow a line from Oscar Wilde: “Moderation is a fatal thing; nothing succeeds like excess.”
If that success is measured by advanced stages of legislative gridlock and partisan polarization, then our excesses should be cheered. But count me out.
Anybody giving even cursory attention to the headlines lately knows how deeply healthcare has been mired in the excesses of political rhetoric. The past couple of weeks alone have shown how one subject—insurance coverage for contraceptives—can hijack the national agenda, devolving from a mostly civil debate over First Amendment freedoms into something much more dark and divisive, as the Rush Limbaugh flap proved.
Moderation in politics? Many will say that’s just not the American way—that we like our encounters in the national public square to be raucous and unencumbered. But searching for common ground has also been our tradition. Let’s remember the spirited community townhall meetings across the country during the summer of 2009 in the runup to votes on the healthcare reform legislation. Those did indeed offer a glimpse of the best and worst of our democratic process, but they were just the opening act of what has been unfolding ever since.
We can tune in to talk-radio on any given day—listening to stations catering to the political left or right—and we’ll hear name-calling, reputations being assailed and complete distortions of public policy (think of the absurd discussions of “death panels” allegedly part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). One key difference, however, is most of that nastiness targets elected officials or other public figures. What does it say about the state of our public discourse when a student—no matter how much of an activist she might be—is vilified and smeared just for giving an opinion during a congressional hearing? It says we’re getting locked into extremism.
As if we need more evidence of the problem, late last month, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican from Maine known for her ability to cross the aisle in search of bipartisanship, announced she would not be seeking a fourth term. She cast the decisive vote on the Senate Finance Committee in 2009 to advance the healthcare reform bill, even though she didn’t vote for it on the Senate floor.
In explaining her decision to step down, Snowe cited what she called the “dysfunction and political polarization” of the Senate. “In a politically diverse nation, only by finding … common ground can we achieve results for the common good,” she wrote in a Washington Post commentary. “That is not happening today and, frankly, I do not see it happening in the near future.” She reiterated the need “to find solutions that unite us rather than divide us.”
Unfortunately, those divisions run deep, but there’s always hope that voters across the country this November will choose candidates who they believe can be more than moderately successful at solving our nation’s problems. Assistant Managing