Shrinking The Partisan Divide
It appears that another budget battle in D.C. is heating up. But, when is there not a battle of some kind in Washington? Partisanship is nothing new in our nation, its existence stretches back to the very founding of our country and the clash between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. But in recent years the amount of vitriol seems to have escalated to a whole new level. The reasons for this are many and complex. Certainly the advent of the 24-hour news cycle has contributed, with media moguls always looking for the next big scoop to present to their loyal, yet partisan, audience. The internet also is a factor. The blogosphere took over politics in 2004 and has been providing reliably partisan information for years now. Finally, bias in the media, perceived or actual, leads individuals to seek out the sources of information with which they most naturally agree. All of these factors converge to create a political class that is constantly in fear of offending their base. One move towards compromise or cooperation and Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Madow will make political mincemeat out of the misbehaving politician, he or she will be challenged in a primary election from someone further to the ideological fringe of their party (i.e. the Tea Party movement or Moveon.org), and a once bright career will be a distant memory.
Many solutions have been presented for what we can do to fix our current predicament. One of the more intriguing ideas that I have heard recently came from the most unlikely of sources, none other than George W. Bush. In his recent autobiography, Decision Points, the former president had the following to say:
“One way to reduce the influence of the ideological extremes is to change the way we elect our members of Congress. In 2006, only about 45 of 435 House races were seriously contested. Since members in so-called safe districts do not have to worry about challenges from the opposite party, their biggest vulnerability is getting outflanked in their own party. This is especially true in the era of bloggers, who make national targets out of politicians they deem ideologically impure. The result is that members of Congress from both parties tend to drift toward the extremes as insurance against primary challengers.
“Our government would be more productive—and our politics more civilized—if congressional districts were drawn by panels of nonpartisan elders instead of partisan state legislatures. This would make for more competitive general elections and a less polarized Congress. Making the change would require politicians to give up some of their power, never an easy task. But for future presidents looking to tackle a big problem, this would be a worthy one to take on.” -Decision Points, Pg. 306-307.
What Bush is referring to, of course, is the practice known as “gerrymandering.” Gerrymandering is when a state’s legislative body draws up the boundaries for congressional districts after every census. But instead of making the districts somewhat uniform or sensible, the party in power contorts the districts into completely odd shapes so as to maximize their parties chance at success and spread their opponents out as thin as possible. The result is, as the President mentioned, is a majority of congressional races that are not even remotely competitive.
The viability of this proposal isn’t very good. As he said, politicians are never likely to give up power, and finding a truly “nonpartisan” group to draw up the congressional districts is easier said than done. But what we should take away from this is a commitment to making our politics less rigidly partisan or ideological and instead a commitment to balance and nuance. As Christians we should recognize that fellow believers occupy many seats across the aisle. Instead of treating them like political enemies, let us celebrate the bonds of fellowship we share in Christ. Who knows, maybe some of that spirit will spill into our political discourse as well?