In my blog posts I have often assailed the radical right which forms the base of the Republican Party, and rightly so in my humble opinion. Over the last 40 years the Republican Partly and it’s leaders have moved drastically to the right and in the process have become far less willing to negotiate on the issues. An article on the NPR website Political Scientist: Republicans Most Conservative They’ve Been In 100 Years, political Science experts who have studied such shifts in congress from 1879 to the present write they have the data to back up the statement made in the article’s title. However, the article also points out that the Republicans in Congress are not the sole reason for gridlock. During that same time period Democrats in Congress have moved towards the left. Though they have not moved near as far ideologically as the Republicans, “…Democrats also have their take-no-prisoner liberals who aren’t prone to compromise on their core issues, either.”
As I have illustrated in another blog post, Washington Gridlock – A Brief History of How We Got Here, probably the biggest reason for the shifts in both parties was the defections of deeply conservative Southern politicians and their equally conservative constituents to the Republican Party. Not only did those defections automatically make the Democratic Party less conservative and the Republican Party more so, it also required nationally known Republican politicians to move their stances on various issues markedly to the right if they wanted to continue to be secure their party’s nominations. The new Southern Republicans now make up a very substantial share of their party’s base and they continually demand that Republican politician’s espouse and support their radical agenda. The much more conservative Republican base is also active in the process of driving more moderate Republicans out of office.
Democratic Party has not moved as nearly as far to the left as the GOP has moved to the right, but the departure to the Southern conservatives left only moderates and liberals in the Democratic ranks. No longer balanced by the Southern conservatives, the party has tilted to the left.
However, the main problem with American politics is that in both political parties there is a concerted push for ideological purity by those of the far right and the far left. Vocal, active segments in both parties judge all actions and decisions through the myopic lens of their particular ideology. The far left liberals in the Democratic Party and extreme conservatives in Republican ranks give their full support only to candidates who agree with them ideologically on all of the issues they consider important.
While these ideologically purist are in the minority in both political parties, their influence far exceeds their numbers since they are among the most politically active of all American voters. They are more likely to attend political events, contribute their time to campaigns, contribute money to candidates, and vote in primary elections. They are also among those who are most likely to contact their elected officials to express their views. Politicians of both parties ignore their demands at their own peril. This especially true in Republican Party where Tea Party activists and other died in wool conservatives make up much of the party’s base.
The ideological true believers on both sides to the aisle have a strong tendency to believe that they are absolutely right in all of their political beliefs and that everyone who doesn’t share their political philosophy is just plain uninformed or worse. This leaves little if any room for compromise because they believe that to compromise on core issues is equivalent to compromising their integrity, something they simply won’t do.
That kind of philosophy might be acceptable in a European style parliamentary system, but it doesn’t work our form of government with its elaborate system of checks and balances. Seldom does one our political parties control the Presidency and hold the solid majorities of both Houses of Congress necessary to move legislation into law without interference from the minority party. In a divided government compromise is the grease which lubricates the machinery of government and allows it to function. A refusal to compromise by either side makes it impossible for our political leaders to properly address the nation’s problems.
In the past when party differences over important legislation threatened to produce a stalemate, moderates on both sides of the aisle approached the problem with the pragmatism necessary to hammer out a compromise which both sides could ultimately accept, however grudgingly. However, as more and more idiotically “pure” candidates were elected to Congress by the extreme elements of by both parties, and especially to the Republican ranks of the House, moving any legislation into law has become more and more difficult. For these new Congressmen everything is viewed through the prism of their ideology so they believe there is only one “right” way to address every issue. Any deviation from that approach is branded as treason to their beliefs. So for them pragmatism has become a dirty word and they leave themselves absolutely no room for compromise. The bottom line is that our country is being held hostage by the fringe elements of our voting population.
There is only one solution to this problem. The majority of us who are more moderate in our beliefs and more pragmatic in our approaches must become much more active in our electoral and government processes. We must more actively support the campaigns of politicians who are centered on getting the business of government done rather than those whose highest goal is the advancement of an ideology. We must be more actively involved in insisting that our elected officials get the job done, compromising as necessary and ensuring that they are not returned to office in the next election if they fail to take heed of our advice. Right now the most extreme in both parties are the squeaky wheels that get the grease. The majority of us in both parties who hold more open and moderate views have to make our voices heard in Washington in behalf of a more workable government.