Bipartisanship is not a four-letter word
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Recently, we saw the tragic result of over two decades of increasingly heated political debate in this country when a gunman opened fire on a group of congressmen practicing for the annual congressional baseball game; a game which is one of the last vestiges of a more genteel and bipartisan time in Washington.

Not since the 1960s and 70s have we seen a more violent period in American politics. The current coarseness in our political rhetoric and the violence it has spawned, both during the presidential campaign and, more recently and tragically, in the shooting of Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and a former congressional staffer, is a bipartisan problem, with roots on both sides of the aisle.

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Both Republicans and Democrats must work to overcome this culture of political nihilism if we are to have any hope of addressing the very serious problems confronting our nation. 

 

Sometime in the aftermath of the tech bubble bursting in the early 2000s, a period in which the Rust Belt also began to earn its nickname, politicians and the many power brokers of the professional political class discovered it was easier to get voters to the polls by embracing a theme of "Midnight in America" over “Morning in America.”

Today, we not only blame the other side for mistakes of the past, but also vilify them and insist that they are out to destroy the country. This cynical — and one could even say craven — view of politics has gradually tightened its grip on America as campaign managers and message makers, Democrat and Republican alike, pushed this new gospel.

In the process, they have co-opted many of our civic organizations, including our churches, and whipped small segments of the electorate into a white-hot rage. The violent events of the last year are the inevitable outcome of this sort of political “discourse,” and they will only increase in frequency and volatility if we continue on our current course.

While a highly effective tactic for turning out the vote, this hyper-partisan approach has driven our country to the breaking point and left our government in near paralysis. Not only has it widened the gap between parties, it has also created fissures in the parties themselves.

Both Republicans and Democrats face charges from the far corners of their own parties of not being conservative or liberal enough, should they dare to express interest in the views of those on the other side of the aisle.

It is one thing to say our opponents have made mistakes or aren’t well informed, it is quite another to accuse them of actively seeking to destroy the country. To accept that point of view is to agree that the things that divide us, as a country, are truly greater than the things that bring us together. I for one reject that view.

We Republicans like to point to the free market, to Adam SmithAdam SmithPentagon urges Congress to move 6M for missile defense Pass the Protecting Data at the Border Act Overnight Defense: Mattis makes surprise visit to Afghanistan | Army general deploys to Puerto Rico to oversee hurricane relief | Senate panel advances Joint Chiefs chair's nomination MORE’s “invisible hand” and invoke the efficiency of business as a model for a well-run government. While I have seen enough of government to know it will never work as efficiently as a business, the one part of the business world that is most directly applicable to good government is the one we most frequently lose sight of: the importance of relationships.

From Wall Street to Main Street, you will find not one businessman or woman who is willing to do business with someone they do not know or trust. That trust is often built on the back nine of the golf course, over lunches, on the sidelines at our kids’ ball games, down at the local PTA, or at the Kiwanis Club.

In our era of hyper-partisanship, to be caught engaging in any of these activities with registered members of the other party, let alone politicians of the opposing party, can be viewed as tantamount to political suicide. I am not suggesting that we can turn back time to those halcyon days when members of Congress carpooled and played cards together.

What I am suggesting is that, if we are going to save the republic, it is time to dial down the rhetoric and dial up the trust, rebuilding the rapport needed for us to address the many challenges facing our country. President Kennedy once reminded us that, “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We breathe the same air. We cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Is the other side wrongheaded on some issues? Absolutely. Are they trying to destroy the country? Absolutely not. I certainly believe we Americans, despite the impassioned rhetoric of our politics, still believe in the basic goodness of our fellow citizens no matter their political affiliation. It is an absolute certainty that continuing to denigrate and dehumanize our political opponents will not solve the ills of our communities, nor our country.

It is time that all Americans — especially our elected officials — take a look in the mirror, a look across the aisle and a look over the hedges to our neighbors and ask if the things that divide us are truly greater than the things that bring us together.

To paraphrase President Reagan, the bottom line is this: You and I still have a rendezvous with destiny, and only together through trust and compromise can we, the last best hope for humanity on earth, begin an era of renewal for all Americans.

Joe Whited is the former intelligence lead for the House Armed Services Committee. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and the Naval War College. He served as a chief in the U.S. Navy and spent over 18 year in the intelligence community. He is also a former Republican candidate for Virginia's 5th Congressional District. Find him on Twitter @Whited_JJ.


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