The other spectrum defining American politics
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Americans tend to think of politics in terms of a spectrum, with voters spread from left to right. Historically the distribution resembled a bell curve, with the vast majority of Americans somewhere in the center. However, more recently we’re told voters are skewing farther left and farther right, leaving the middle empty and the nation hopelessly divided.

I’m not sure the left/right schism captures the key issue in American politics. On closer inspection, it’s clear that attitude toward governing, not ideology, is the most consequential question. Whatever their political leanings, voters diverge more than ever regarding the question of what elected officials are supposed to do once they get to Washington. And that’s the more fundamental reason why Washington is broken.

Set aside the divide between right and left. Imagine another spectrum, with some voters – who might be labeled “resisters” – standing at one end. The resisters’ primary mission is to oppose whatever the other party supports, almost without question. No matter whether on the right or left, their ideal representative is someone who will always vote their party’s line and always fight the other party tooth-and-nail. Their ideological gold standard is “purity”— a complete refusal to deviate from the party line and let the other party have a “win.” They are ideologically militant and view governing as never-ending trench warfare.


Some may be from the left and some from the right, but what they have in common is the fact that voters at this end of the behavioral spectrum would prefer no legislation get passed rather than that legislation be passed if it so much as nods to the interests of the other party. They consider “compromise” and “cooperate” dirty words and see bipartisanship as a form of disloyalty. They’re quick to pull support from “traitors” willing to work across the aisle, urging party leaders to strip them of plum committee assignments or threaten a primary challenge from a candidate who passes the purity tests demanded by the resister wing of their party.

At the other end of the spectrum — as far removed as possible from the resisters — are what I call “problem solvers.” For this group, the needs of the party are weighed against doing what’s right for the member’s district and, most importantly, what will serve the country as a whole. The problem solvers’ watchwords are “open-mindedness” and “respect.” Problem solvers would rather the other party notch a win than the country endure a loss. And they see virtue in compromise, arrangements in which both parties get something they want, but not everything. They view governing as a mechanism to drive progress.

Peruse Twitter today and you’ll invariably come away believing the country is full of resisters and bereft of problem solvers. The same goes for the House of Representatives, where the loudest voices emanate from the left-wing Progressive Caucus and the right-wing Freedom Caucus. Pundits talk about American voters as though they’re arrayed in much the same way — everyone a resister, determined simply to battle the other side.

But I’m convinced the conventional wisdom is wrong. I believe the American electorate skews much more toward problem solving than the pundits would have us think. And insomuch as our leaders try to reflect the hue of the American people at large, I think their mistaken sense of what voters want prompts them to govern in a way that is not only failing those who embrace problem solving — it’s failing the nation as a whole.

Yes, there are lots of resisters in America and in Washington — some who are bent on resisting Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE, and some who were intent on resisting Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaButtigieg: America 'united in mourning' Kobe Bryant's death Obama mourns 'heartbreaking' loss of Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna 'The worst news': Political world mourns loss of Kobe Bryant MORE. But look at polling data about whether Americans would rather have purity or cooperation in Washington, and you realize something else is going on. Huge swaths of America are nearer the problem-solving pole. And they are endlessly frustrated, looking for candidates who will speak to their interests.

Fortunately, a growing group in Congress is starting to speak to and for this frustrated majority: The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bloc of 48 House members, split equally between the parties, who promise to seek common ground.  As a result, the caucus has emerged with bipartisan solutions to issues ranging from health care to infrastructure to border security and beyond. In a country as diverse as ours, democracy can only work if those with divergent points of view will work together. We need leaders who are problems solvers, not resisters. Washington needs, once again, to reflect the common sense and common decency of the American people.

Howard Marks is co-founder and co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management and a co-founder of No Labels.