Your Turn: Ideological purity hinders good policy

During my time in Congress, I had the privilege of being around for some of the most remarkable moments of bipartisanship in our country’s recent history. I witnessed the 1983 reform of Social Security, as well as the Tax Reform Act of 1986. I rejoiced with both Republicans and Democrats in 1989 as the Berlin Wall fell. In 1990, I cast my vote in favor of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We curbed gun violence in America through the bipartisan Brady Handgun Bill, and the means for our military to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime were decided by a cooperative Congress. The list goes on and on.

Regardless of the disagreements we held, it seemed as though there was no challenge insurmountable. Gridlock was not an option. On major issues, President Reagan and Speaker O’Neill were able to find the compromise necessary to move our country forward.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for today. Political brinksmanship is now the norm, and while it is easy to follow the crowd and place total blame on Republicans and the Tea Party, Democrats must accept our share of responsibility. After all, politics is a two-way street, and we have certainly made our fair share of mistakes.

As an example, we succeeded in expanding health care coverage for millions of Americans, a feat certainly worth celebrating, but have also made no effort to seriously address the debt crisis that will someday haunt our children. Despite efforts by some in both parties to address the issue of Social Security and Medicare insolvency, these important programs for millions of Americans continues to deteriorate. On the immigration front, though our president avoided the political ramifications of taking unilateral action on immigration reform, the humanitarian crisis persists.

Earlier this year, a Gallup poll indicated that the farthest-left liberal wing of the Democratic Party is larger than it has been in the last 20 years. The ranks of the Blue Dog Democrats, a caucus of moderate Democrats, are thinning, and conservative Democrats are becoming a rare breed in Congress.

Taken together, these factors are great news for ideological purity, but are toxic for good policy. That is why it is so important we safeguard against extremism in our party. The left must be willing to compromise with the right.

When I ran for the U.S. Senate in 2008, I promised to put Kansans ahead of any political party. I reached out to Democrats, Republicans and independent voters alike in the hopes of bringing people together for one purpose: to solve the big problems of our time. My conviction in the idea of strength through bipartisanship and unity remains as resilient as ever. I believe that together, we can still solve the big problems.

I am proud to stand with my young Republican friend, Thomas Wheatley, in a call for unity. This November, I ask every Kansan to cast aside partisan politics, and instead look to their conscience for guidance as they decide who will serve as their voice in government. Our country deserves nothing better than people who will serve with sound judgment, commitment to duty, and the recognition that democracy cannot survive without compromise.

Right now, our nation is looking for unity to make a comeback; let Kansas be the place where that happens.