Former House Dem tackles polarized politics in new book
© Greg Nash

A former congressman who was once rated the most centrist member of the House says in his new book that both liberals and conservatives are to blame for political polarization.

Former Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) says “Dead Center: How Political Polarization Divided America and What We Can Do About it” will tackle a key question: “Is the country polarized, or are just our politics polarized?”

“What I found in researching the book is most people are just normal folks,” Altmire tells ITK. “They’re living their lives every day, thinking about who their sports team is going to select in the upcoming draft, or what activity their kids have tonight, or what their work week looks like. They’re not thinking about politics on a daily basis.”

“But they’re frustrated with the fact that our politics is polarized,” he says.

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“Nobody’s really told the story of what is the impact on our public policy,” Altmire says. “What is the impact on campaigns, and how does it impact the decisionmaking of our members of Congress when you have a polarized environment dominated by people on the extremes?”

One particularly divisive subject he won’t be delving into too much in the book, however, is the “phenomenon” that is President Trump.

“He’s unique,” Altmire says.

Noting how Trump “dominates the news,” Altmire says he didn’t want to focus the book on one figure. “He’s incredibly polarizing, which is clear for everyone to see. He seems to enjoy and use as a political strategy the idea of dividing the country, so from that standpoint there’s certainly a tie-in to the things that I talk about.”

Altmire, 49, got a first-hand glimpse into the inner workings of Congress during his three terms in the House, before losing a 2012 primary to former Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.).

He says despite popular belief, plenty of lawmakers on both sides get along just fine.

“It’s a common misconception that Democrats and Republicans don’t talk to each other, that they’re not friends,” explains Altmire, who recently left his executive role at Florida’s Blue Cross Blue Shield to promote his book.

“I was in a heavily targeted district, a Republican-leaning district, as a Democrat member. I was friends with people who ran the NRCC, people who woke up every day thinking how they were going to beat me.”

Mentioning his friendships with then-National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Altmire says with a laugh, “It reminded me of the ‘Looney Tunes’ program with the wolf and the sheepdog who would walk together and they would chat amicably as they clocked in.”

“And soon as they started their day, they would go after each other and pummel each other because that’s what they had to do,” Altmire says. “And then the whistle would go off, and they would pat each other on the back, clock out, and do the same thing.”