Ending the Era of Bitter, Unproductive Partisanship

Last week, families all around the country gathered to break bread, give thanks and inevitably to share their thoughts in some awkward political discussions. The family Thanksgiving dinner table has always seemed to capture the political dynamic that exists in our country as a whole.  People who largely agree on how to raise children or where to go to church often nevertheless hold divergent viewpoints on political issues from the economy to healthcare to immigration.  This Thanksgiving closely followed the conclusion of a long and contentious election season that revealed the striking divide that exists among Americans when it comes to these issues.  President Obama’s reelection seems to have left 51% of the guests to Thanksgiving dinner optimistic about the next four years and 47% disappointed and some even distraught.

Following the election, there has been much discussion about the nation coming together in order to address the important business of our day, because, after all, as Americans, there is far more that brings us together than divides us.  But even as Grandma attempts to ease tensions by bringing out her fabulous pumpkin pie as Uncle Joe begins quoting (or maybe misquoting) the Affordable Care Act, the elephant in the room remains. Despite the talk of coming together and bipartisan efforts, our country is growing increasingly divided when it comes to confronting the immense challenges that we face.  So the question then becomes why the sharp division?  Why are half of Americans optimistic about the country’s future and why does the other half feel that the country is continuing down a fast track of decline?

Why is it that all Americans want to see unemployment rates go down, would like access to quality, affordable health care and hope to see our nation and those who defend it kept from harm, yet there remains such a deep, profound divide over how to best achieve those goals?   The exchange of opposing ideas, engaged in by our elected leaders, can lead to the creation of effective public policy that makes a positive, significant difference in people’s lives, but when the debate about the substance of those policies has become partisan to the point of complete gridlock, when the use of the word ‘compromise’ is viewed as the equivalent of waving a white flag of surrender, and when policy is attacked merely because the other party produced it, a serious evaluation about how our nation’s business is being conducted is in order.

Congressional Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner, have indicated very limited willingness to yield on the issue of increasing tax revenues.  Insisting that any tax increases, even on the wealthiest of Americans, will have damaging consequences for all, is a baseless and irresponsible claim, designed to incite fear, derail the Obama administration and further divide the American people.

In addition, Republicans who supported the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq are now loudly criticizing the drone strikes ordered by President Obama.  While it is crucial that Congress checks the power of the executive branch, especially in matters of war and national security, based on their unwavering support for President Bush’s unilateral actions, their opposition to the President’s foreign policy can only seem as politically motivated and tainted by partisanship.

Rallying the nation to confront the challenges that lie ahead is the responsibility of our elected leaders and in recent years they have simply paid lip service to pragmatism and compromise and continued to focus on political point scoring.  For Congressional Republicans, in particular, implementing legislation upon which the nation depends has become secondary in importance to derailing Obama’s presidency.

However, just as families can come together for Thanksgiving despite the political differences that we have, so too can our political leaders, because in reality the values that we have in common are much stronger than the political differences that divide us.  Our political leaders could take a hint from grandma and try to bring some pumpkin pie to the table.  It is time for them to refocus their rhetoric to actively encourage the American people to come together, find some common ground and end this era of bitter, unproductive partisanship.