Voters yearn for more compromise

August 17, 2011


If George Washington could witness the partisan warfare that has come to dominate the nation’s capital, he would probably ask to have his name removed. I’d suggest calling it Dysfunction Junction, at least until that seemingly distant day when politicians can again demonstrate a fundamental ability to govern.

As evidenced by the ginned-up debt-ceiling crisis and the jerry-rigged fiscal deal that virtually guarantees more episodes of brinkmanship, the Democratic-Republican duopoly now appears bent on alienating as many voters as possible. And it’s doing a heckuva job. Never before in the history of polling have Americans voiced so much contempt for politicians or yearned so fiercely to throw the bums out.

The problem is that today’s elected leaders (I use that word advisedly) are far more ideologically polarized than the general citizenry. Too many politicians — especially the tea-party Republicans who held the debt ceiling hostage and drove us to the brink of default — do not believe in the art of compromise as practiced by the Founding Fathers they profess to revere. Meanwhile, according to a new national poll, 85 percent of Americans want lawmakers to compromise for the greater good.

Poor view of Congress

This disconnect helps explain why only 14 percent of Americans (and only 11 percent of swing-voting independents) have a favorable view of Congress, while only 15 percent believe most of its members deserve to be reelected. This is unprecedented: People are angrier now than they were going into the 1994, 2006, and 2010 midterm elections, all of which turned out to be tsunamis that toppled or severely weakened the ruling party in Congress.

A historic anti-incumbent wave seems to be in the offing — one that could portend power shifts in Congress and the White House. The polls suggest that swing voters are disillusioned with President Obama and angry at congressional Democrats, but they’re even more ticked off at congressional Republicans. What we don’t know is whether anything better would emerge from the wave’s wreckage.

If, for instance, we wind up with a Republican president and divided power on Capitol Hill, gridlock would likely continue. The debt standoff was no sudden freak of nature; it had been developing for decades, ever since deal-making centrists began to disappear (in the 24/7 media as well as in government) and uncivil ideologues began to take their place.

The risk of governmental paralysis will remain no matter how the voters sort out the political players. Indeed, the credit downgrade by Standard & Poor’s was in part a thumbs-down verdict on our current politics — a dire forecast of further paralysis. Granted, the rating agency has rightly taken heat for its hands-off behavior during the subprime-mortgage scandal, but its vote of no confidence in this case seems right on the money.

A third-party solution?

As often occurs during hard times, many Americans are yearning for a magical solution — for instance, a third party that would break the dysfunctional duopoly. Gallup says 68 percent of independent voters currently embrace that idea. Third-party fans are fond of pointing out that Ross Perot garnered 19 percent of the vote in 1992 despite being widely perceived as nuts. And that was in an era when Capitol Hill was still dominated by across-the-aisle deal-makers such as Sam Nunn, Bill Bradley, Bob Dole and Mark Hatfield (who died last week).

The latest brainstorm on the third-party front is Americans Elect, which is financed with $20 million from mostly anonymous donors (wait, wasn’t secrecy supposed to be a bad thing?) and fronted by an impressive board of directors, including ex-Bush strategist Mark McKinnon and Democratic pollster Doug Schoen. True to our digital era, the group is inviting Americans to nominate an independent presidential ticket via a virtual primary conducted on the Internet. It’s also working to get on all ballots nationwide — which may be a tall order given election laws that protect the duopoly in Pennsylvania and many other states.

The goal is to seize the middle ground — what Colin Powell has called the “sensible center” — that the polarized major parties seem to have abandoned. It’s an admirable plan, but it has an inherent flaw: Voters have very different definitions of the sensible center.

Last autumn, 62 percent of tea-party-affiliated Americans told Gallup that a third party would be a swell idea. Their idea of centrism includes preserving the Bush tax cuts for the rich and shredding the federal safety net that has protected average citizens since the New Deal. Sixty-one percent of liberals also told Gallup that a third party would be a swell idea. Their centrism would kill those tax cuts and keep the safety net.

Americans Elect leaders have reportedly been fantasizing about a Gen. David Petraeus-Michael Bloomberg ticket. (Bloomberg’s name has been floated for higher office every year since 2006, often by Bloomberg.) But for now, that scenario seems as solid as skywriting. All we know for sure in these dolorous dog days is that the major parties will continue to test our patience.

GOP held hostage

And I won’t pretend that both parties are equally at fault. The bottom line is that the polls show most Americans want compromise and believe the budget chasm can be narrowed effectively only with a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases. But the Republicans, hostage to tea-party absolutism, do not want compromise and refuse to entertain any revenue increases. Senate Republican leaders said last week that they reserve the right to threaten future credit defaults and government shutdowns to get what they want.

In response, the Democrats — with Obama “leading from behind” — will likely sustain their habit of going belly up when the chips are down.

This is no way to run a country, but it’s a guaranteed way to stoke even more public anger. We’ve long been comforted by Winston Churchill’s assertion that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.” But these days, much to our detriment, the duopoly seems to be woefully short of democratic values.

— Dick Polman’s email address is dpolman@phillynews.com.


Paul R Getto 6 years, 8 months ago

The 'temper tantrums' from both sides are hurting us all. It's time for the sheeple and their elected representatives grow up.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 8 months ago

What have we done to ourselves? When can we expect to have a government again that represents the will of the people and not of special interest groups and lobbyists? There is no plan for that and we are doomed if we don't stop what we are doing. When I say "we", I don't mean the American People, I mean the Congress. Who is the Patriot that puts that bill forward that may cut the kick-backs that congressmen and women get from these groups?

It is time!!

jhawkinsf 6 years, 8 months ago

That reminds me of a story I heard told by Chris Mathews, the news anchor. President Reagan was coming to Congress to give a speech. A young aide to Tip O'Neil whispered something to the effect that the enemy is coming. Tip replied that he was only the enemy from 9-5.
As I interpret that story, these were men who were able to see through the politics and see each other's humanity. They could fight for ideals without it getting personal. They were able to work together. I've said many, many times in this forum that the number one problem in the U.S. is the inability of Democrats and Republicans to get along. I long for a return to the days when politicians could argue with each other during the day and then at night sip a whiskey together while playing a friendly game of poker. A time when members of both political parties brought their families to the swimming pool and watched each other's children splash around. Yes, I long for the days when we had statesmen leaders like Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neil.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 8 months ago

"And I won’t pretend that both parties are equally at fault."

And you can be sure that Polman, a committed left-wing editorialist mired in antiquated views about the role of government, won't.

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 8 months ago

He told me he liked my use of the word 'balderdash' once. I took offense.

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

If you and other conservative posters don't repeatedly violate the tos, after being warned by the moderators, I predict that none of you will be banned.

If you feel that Agnostick's posts are offensive and break those same tos, please by all means flag them and have them removed.

And, if you feel it's warranted, make a complaint to the moderators about his behavior.

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

I've been saying this for a while.

People want actual solutions, not rhetoric and inflamed partisan nonsense, and most of them understand that working together is the only way to do that.

85% is a very large majority of Americans.

usnsnp 6 years, 8 months ago

One of the problems is that Congress lives in a bubble. Their pay and benifits are to be payed no matter what happens to the country. They receive large amount of money from lobbyest and organizations that do not have to tell where the money comes from. They are afraid of talking heads and people that get them to sign pledges. Very few of them are afraid of the being defeated in an election. They do not listen to all segments of their district only the ones that they think will help them get re-elected. They stay in congress and when they retire they retire on benifits that 90% of the people in the Nation wish they had half of. They will not become accountable to the people they represent until they can be held acccountable by the people of their district.

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

  1. In fact, given an approximately 50% turnout, only 13 of the eligible voters in KS voted for Brownback.

  2. Your analysis of the Arts Commission fails to include the fact that Republican legislators voted to continue funding it, and that Brownback de-funded it anyway.

Liberty275 6 years, 8 months ago

If the voters want compromise, they should all compromise and vote for the same liars.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 8 months ago

Compromise is democrats allowing the RINO party to lead the way with their reckless wreckanomics that produce no jobs and no new revenue.

Democrats have been compromising for 31 years yet never stop compromising the economy down the tubes.

I am sick of RINO led compromise. Three decades has produced millions upon millions upon millions of jobs shipped abroad with no jobs to replace those that corporate UNamerican sent abroad accompanied with a tax break that makes it profitable..... this sucks big time.

RINO's keep screaming compromise in spite of the fact they never compromise. Just like they never reduce the size of government nor spending. Reaganomics is big big spending wreckanomics.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 8 months ago

Meet 3 decades of RINO/CINO compromise:

After spending so so many decades in Washington D.C on tax dollar payrolls RINO’s are sure they learned all they needed to know about OUR money and founding reckless economies. RINO’s have much experience under their belts that they never quit sharing.

Introducing the RINO Plaftorm Written In Stone:

  1. TABOR is Coming by Grover Norquist and Koch Bros sells out state governments http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2005/0705rebne.html

  2. The Reagan/Bush Savings and Loan Heist(Cost taxpayers $1.4 trillion) http://rationalrevolution0.tripod.com/war/bush_family_and_the_s.htm

  3. Wall Street Bank Fraud on Consumers under Bush/Cheney sent the economy out the window costing taxpayers many many trillions. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2009/0709macewan.html

  4. 3 financial institutions were at risk so why $700 billion in bail out money? http://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/10/good_billions_after_bad_one_year

Tax cuts which do nothing to make an economy strong or produce jobs.

  1. Still A Bad Idea – Bush Tax Cuts - The ENTITLEMENT program for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2001/0301miller.html

In the end big debt and super duper bailouts were the results which does not seem to bother Republicans, as long as they are in power.

In fact, by the time the second Bush left office, the national debt had grown to $12.1 trillion:

  • Over half of that amount had been created by Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy.

  • Another 30% of the national debt had been created by the tax cuts for the wealthy under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

• Fully 81% of the national debt was created by just these three Republican Presidents. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2010/0111orr.html

Flap Doodle 6 years, 8 months ago

Have you posted that same text 20 times this week yet, merrill? If you want to smash the state and stuff, you've got to post it at least 50 more times before sundown Friday.

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 8 months ago

Why bother? Merrill isn't interested in debating or discussing - trust me, I've tried. It's a one-way spamfest akin to a crazy old man shouting in a cafe. The only thing worth doing is mocking him because it's impossible to take lawnmower man seriously at this point.

On a side note, can someone explain to me what a CINO is? I'm pretty sure he's not talking about the place in Italy. I'd ask him but his definition of RINO is totally warped and I doubt he'd respond.

MrRighty 6 years, 8 months ago

The American people do not thirst for centrists....2/3 of the problem is that 60% of the American people don't thirst for anything. They just plod along...not voting...and if they do vote...its uninformed voting swayed by slick ads and two-faced, lying speeches. The rest of us want sanity; fiscal, legislative, and ethical sanity. The fact is the left simply DOES NOT show they have ANY desire to provide that. I don't 100% agree with all of the right and what they want....but its a much better start.

Compromise is what you do when you change your vote after a meeting with a lobbyist that promises you huge financial support in exchange for your vote or a senior legislator that promises your office is moved to the basement of some building four blocks away if you don't vote with him. Compromise is when you decide to vote on something after someone promises to vote for your stuff. Compromise is what happens when 72% of your electorate screams for you to not vote for that abortion of a healthcare bill and you do it anyway because the party and the President is strong-arming you. The word has two principal meanings: 1.) a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands and 2.) an endangering, especially of reputation; exposure to danger, suspicion, etc.: a compromise of one's integrity. I say we've had enough of the latter; the Washington-style compromise. People on the Topeka Opinion page ask repeatedly why I don't run for Congress. I reply that I would never be electable. I'm too dangerous because I tell the truth, don't play games, and stand up for what I believe in...even if it means losing. Its time for legislators to stand up for what they believe in no matter what. If they start doing that, they'll find they don't stand as alone as they thought they would. Brinksmanship is not what happened two weeks ago. Conservatives standing up for principles and keeping a promise they made to voters is what happened. Thank you Mr. President or Chairman Maobama as I like to call you, I'll keep my money, my guns, and my freedom; you can keep the change.

MrRighty 6 years, 8 months ago

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