After Obama win, how civility can come to Washington (+video)
After the election last night, President Obama and Mitt Romney rightly spoke of the need to reach out to the other side. But today's political divisiveness has been decades in the making and will take decades to undo. Here's how that can happen. It starts with citizens.
With the long election season over and control of the White House, the House, and Senate unchanged, is the stage now set for a more conciliatory tone in Washington?Skip to next paragraph
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Both presidential candidates paid service to that hope post-election. Celebrating his reelection in Chicago, President Obama told supporters, “You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming months I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we an only solve together.” Mitt Romney similarly urged the leaders of both parties “to reach across the aisle and do the people’s work.”
The so-called fiscal cliff provides an early opportunity for cooperation. The nation faces deep mandatory spending cuts and tax increases on Jan. 1 unless Mr. Obama and Congress agree on an alternative long-term plan to reduce the budget deficit. There is a possibility that Republicans in the Senate, having failed in their strategy of denying Obama a second term by obstructing the legislative process, could set a more constructive course.
But what of the long term? The divisiveness that characterizes today’s political scene has been decades in the making. It will likely take decades to undo – propelled by a persistently engaged public who demand more from their government than political warfare.
How might civility and cooperation come to politics in Washington?
The causes of bitter partisanship are diverse. They include the political realignment of the South in the wake of the civil rights movement and the partisan wounds of Watergate. Add to that the indignities inflicted on Republicans during the 40-year Democratic reign in the House and the backbench GOP tactics that ultimately broke that hold in 1994. The increasingly partisan media, meanwhile, scorn compromise, while aggressive campaign spending by the parties and wealthy outside contributors undermines the principle of local representation.
The result is dysfunction. The parties have become militant. Partisan interests often override the common good. Party leaders demand lockstep loyalty and punish individual action, stalling a legislative system that requires deliberation and a degree of consensus.
To map a way out of this condition, let us consider a date in the future by which we have restored Congress to its design and relation to the presidency: a House of vibrant debate, a Senate of cool deliberation, a strong People’s Branch keeping watch over the Executive and the nation’s purse. Let’s take the cautiously optimistic goal of 2033. By then the nation’s political map will have been redrawn twice by the decennial process of redistricting.
What needs to happen between now and then?
First, voters will have to exert unrelenting pressure to reform the drawing of congressional voting districts, the running of primary contests, and the funding of campaigns – all issues related to how Americans choose the people who represent them.
This kind of pressure is already bearing some fruit today. To correct the problem of gerrymandered voting districts that make no sense demographically but that reliably return partisans to the House, for instance, 13 states have put the job of district mapping in the hands of nonpartisan commissions.