Last semester I wrote an article to praise the bipartisan plan laid out by Senators to reform immigration laws and tackle the real problem of the masses of illegal immigrants in the United States today. Certainly I had some praise for the plan itself, but the majority of my accolades were reserved simply for the effort. I saw a spirit of compromise and reason creeping into the political system and I was optimistic.
Needless to say, the effort was squashed long before it glimpsed the sunshine beyond the looming walls of Congress, and with that, this semester, I have adopted great pessimism. In fact, my initial optimism was less strident hope than simply utter naivety. My newness to the political system blinded my ability to see the inevitable. In American politics there is no such thing as compromise, moderation, balance, reasonableness, negotiation, or call it what you will; it simply does not matter because it never really wins.
Stand where you will on gun control, the Manchin-Toomey proposal was yet another attempt at compromise. The plan would have instated criminal and mental background checks, which are already in place for federally licensed gun dealers, for gun purchases only at gun shows and online sales with no further conditions or infringements on the second amendment. With gun rights activists plugging their ears at the slightest mention of comprehensive reform and anti-gun folks fighting to ban guns entirely, the proposal almost graced middle ground, and its utter failure stands once again to highlight Congress’s inability to just get along.
Now, as September matures, Congress threatens to once again prove its imprudence in the full-fledged war media has mistakenly underrated as “fiscal fights.” With both sides gearing up to hold firm on very different resolutions for government funding, citizens prepare themselves for the possibility of a complete government shutdown. Instead of working on negotiating a plan both sides might just deal with, Congress plans on playing chicken while they work on crafting an after message that pins all the blame on the other party.
Yet as citizens like me gawk, baffled at the lack of sensibility in government, officials revel in it. A representative can claim no greater pride than sticking to his ideological values, or in other words, refusing to compromise. It has become a trend in American politics for candidates to accuse one another of being too moderate and not espousing party extremes.
Just last month, in a war of words between Sarah Palin and Chris Christie, republican governor of New Jersey, Palin accused Christie of being “for big government” and “trying to go along to get along in so many respects,” also claiming Christie does not get the notion of conservative government. Though I strongly doubt Christie’s democratic opponents would agree, Palin dished out the worst possible political insult, that Christie is simply far too reasonable.
This kind of insult is no stranger to Pennsylvania politics. Republican, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey fed himself to the wolves by flirting with comprehensive gun control. When he abandoned ideological rigidity, conservatives say Toomey seriously damaged his chance at reelection. Never mind that Toomey supported a bill that a vast majority of PA voters stand behind. He committed the ultimate offense; he reached across the aisle.
Of course the offense is no less callous for liberals. Noam Chomsky, liberal author, argued that in recent decades President Obama would have been a “moderate republican.” Yet republicans will go so far as to flip their stance on military intervention in Syria for the sake of opposing the President. They know better than to be caught crossing the aisle.
Diane Medved, clinical psychologist and author, writes in USA Today, “In my business – psychology – unyielding, strident insistence on extreme positions brings failure in every area of life.” Meanwhile, newfound pessimists like me wonder what is wrong with our government.
The fact of the matter is, neither moderation nor maturity will ever reign in American politics as long as the broken campaign system depends on money. A seat in the Senate costs almost 9 million on average, and that is not even touching on the more than 700 million raised solely by President Obama in the 2012 election year, not including money raised and spent on political action committees (PACs) on his behalf. Montana gubernatorial candidate, Corey Stapleton, laments, “It costs $150,000 to $175,000 just to get one message across… it better be a damn good message, because that’s basically all I can do.”
Stapleton is right, it better be one good message, one good, rigidly ideological message, because PACs and political elites who are willing and able to donate that kind of money hold extreme views. Furthermore, those individuals are often encouraged to donate by interest groups, none of which stand behind moderation. Reasonable politicians make bad fundraisers; bad fundraisers do not make office.
Nevertheless, some states have pioneered the way toward renewed moderation. In Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine, the candidates can level the playing field through public financing programs. These programs, commonly referred to as “Clean Elections” finance campaigns completely through public funds, include spending limits, and prohibit candidates from raising funds through private sources.
The result is politicians who need not yield to the whims of particular minority interests in the name of cold hard cash. The framework is there already. We can follow the lead to make clean elections a reality and usher moderation, measure, and prudence back into the American political system. After all, I am an optimist at heart.
Joy Wilson is a fourth-year student majoring in communications with a minor in studio art. She can be reached at JW794401@wcupa.edu.