Political systems end when they no longer exist as viable means of serving constituents or conducting matters of state, but rather begin to impede them. When even the most routine matters of governance become so mired in partisan gamesmanship that they can no longer be performed without enormously disproportionate effort and lifting a feather equates to pushing a boulder uphill, it is time to reconsider the entire infrastructure of the state. 236 years into our democratic experiment, that moment seems to have passed.
Like lawyers or IRS agents, politicians were once the butt of endless jokes, half-rooted in truth and semi-realistic generalizations. But I don't hear jokes about politicians anymore. I think that's because the other half of the half-truth is missing, leaving nothing to distinguish a joke from a general statement of malaise. It would seem we've gotten so used to the sad portion of the truth becoming its entirety, that there's nothing left to laugh at.
Historians will likely look back at the death of bipartisanship as a watermark moment in the decline of our republic. Our nation was founded by brave and wise men, but much of the most important work in our union was done by subsequent generations of statesman who engaged in the less romanticized, but equally profound labor of working out the kinks to refine a working democratic-republic of epic magnitude.
These great men engaged in fierce debate, driven by an informed ideological persuasion that remained grounded by the intellectual aspiration to not only argue, but to learn, and even be inspired by competing philosophies. To reach across the aisle and surrender ground as you gained it, in order to accommodate the competing ideals from which a more perfect union could grow was something to aspire toward. Once accomplished, it became a matter worth celebrating rather than shaming.
A key difference among these men and the empty suits who currently serve in their once honorable vestibules was a selflessness associated with the desire to defy history rather than repeat it – a belief that the endurance of the end result, even if it wouldn't be seen in their lifetime, was the real measuring stick by which to assess the fruits of their labor. I believe such men would be sickened by the spectacle that is today's political spectrum.
We have reached the point where we now openly concede that even the most obvious solutions to many of our simplest problems are not “politically feasible,” especially “in an election year.” Yes, we concede that one out of every two years will be spent at a halt, only to ease into a slow roll comparable to winter molasses in the year between. We accept that our “representatives” have a limited amount of time to even think about our enormous challenges and that nearly all of their work on such matters will be delegated to staff we never meet or hold accountable because nearly all of their time must be spent dialing for dollars in order to keep their treasured seat long enough to trade it in for a million dollar job on K Street.
Today, a sizable chunk of the minority of Americans who even bother to vote, base their assessments in large part by how obstructive a public official has been. Have they ever worked with the other party? Have they ever not voted the party line? Have they ever even said something nice about the other side? I'm not exaggerating, for I've just described the downfall of a very credible politician and sound presidential candidate – former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. His biggest crime – he'd made pleasant remarks about a Democratic President while accepting an ambassadorship to China.
Many right-wing activists suggested that merely accepting the ambassadorship was some sort of treason. Never mind that he was without doubt the best candidate to serve as a liaison to our largest trading partner and most significant competitor nation, or that the entire country was well-served with him in such a role. It would seem that the most patriotic thing he could have done in many of these self-styled patriots' eyes would have been to deny his nation that service so long as there were not a Republican in the White House. After all, the most important thing was not to move the nation forward, but to obstruct the enemy within – his party's own highest-ranking public official, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, had already said so.
In a speech at the Reagan Library given in late 2011, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie lauded leadership and compromise as the keys to successes he was claiming in his state, describing the ability to work with Democrats and make deals to get important things done as a key element to his being a leader. Speaking in front of the party base at the RNC last month, however, Governor Christie's keynote speech had a decidedly different tone. He'd apparently learned the lesson Huntsman had failed to grasp, though I wonder if the Reagan Library speech will show up in primary ads to haunt him in the future.
The search for courage, intellectual independence or anything resembling a hero in today's political world would be a brief and rather fruitless exercise. With that in mind, it should appear obvious that no one party has a lock on sound ideas, with interference from the other side as all that stands between their gilded playbook and a quick fix. If anyone wants to see what one-party rule looks like, just take a look at our state of Florida right now, where gerrymandering and a lock on the biggest special interests have turned a state that continues to lean left in presidential elections into a top-to-bottom GOP stronghold on the state level, where one party controls the Governor's mansion, both houses of the legislature and every elected cabinet seat.
Not surprisingly, the state is still completely driven by the agenda of the most moneyed special interests who continue to hold tremendous influence over the state party's platform. Party officials get their marching orders and are immediately shredded by the heavily weaponized political machine if they don't toe the line; tarred as RINO's, closet liberals or some other buzzword that will all but ensure the end of their political careers when the big money smears rain down. One-party rule hasn't worked elsewhere in the world and it hasn't worked in Florida. The idea that it will somehow cure our national ills is laughable.
I've said it before and I'll say it again – we face historic challenges that will require the best and brightest among us working in concert to discover and implement viable solutions in order to preserve not only our republic and our American way of life – but quite possibly human existence as we know it. The idea that such demands will be met in a toxic environment where petty, intellectually-vacant bickering has replaced meaningful and spirited debate between men and women of substance is nothing short of a crying shame. Someone once said that a society doesn't often get the leaders it wants, but most of the time, it gets the ones it deserves. We ought to look in the mirror and ask when we are going to hold ourselves accountable to earning more than the sad lot of “leaders” our apathy has wrought.
Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at email@example.com. Click here to visit his column archive. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook. Sign up for a free email subscription and get The Bradenton Times' Thursday Weekly Recap and Sunday Edition delivered to your email box each week at no cost.