It seems that "unity" has been identified as the key to voters' hearts these days. Politicians across the nation have correctly concluded that the American public is fed up with the way partisan politics seems to prevent progress on key issues in government. The mantra has become, "Can't we all just get along?"
It's been a common refrain in the presidential race and came up again last week when U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, spoke at Southwestern College in Winfield. "It is a simple fact that if any nation's leaders allow themselves to be polarized, that nation's citizens will act accordingly," he told his audience. "In America today, we are politicized, polarized and Balkanized."
Roberts proceeded to give examples of how he is trying to beat that trend, particularly through cooperation with Kansas' other representatives in Congress. That kind of intrastate teamwork is good, but it doesn't begin to address the broader issues of bipartisanship.
Right now, it seems, everyone is talking about political unity, but no one is doing much about it. Members of Congress continue to say they want to cross party lines and do what's best for the country, but when push comes to shove, the rhetoric seems to break down. It's also interesting how the minority party usually is the one talking about how we need more cooperation.
And the politicians aren't completely to blame. Not only did we, the voters, elect them, but we also have come to tolerate big money campaigns that force candidates to seek ever bigger contributions from industries, associations and individuals who monitor their votes. We want our representatives to be statesmen free of political influence, but we have a campaign system almost guaranteed to make them beholden to certain points of view.
Roberts actually was being charitable by implying that the polarization starts with the nation's leaders and rubs off on its citizens. The intensity of the current us-against-them atmosphere makes it difficult to separate the cause and effect.
It will be no small challenge to turn promises of bipartisanship into action. It's good, however, that Roberts and other politicians are at least recognizing the problem.