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America has a broken political system our leaders need to fix

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Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill coined the saying, “All politics is local.” Today, it is fair to say that all politics is personal and Americans, in their gut, are suffering from the tribal divisions growing in Washington and across the country.

According to a recent poll by the American Psychological Association, the future of the country is a significant source of anxiety for nearly two-thirds of Americans. Equally worrying is that more than half of those individuals consider today to be the lowest point in U.S. history in their memory, a figure “spanning every generation” from World War II to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

{mosads}We both served in Vietnam, saw the dissolution of the Soviet empire, and lived through significant cultural and political struggles facing the country. We were in public office when terrorists attacked our nation in 2001: One of us was U.S. Senate majority leader, and the other became the first Homeland Security secretary. We have seen Americans under extreme moments of stress, and it is vitally important that we recognize that our current divisions represent a tangible problem for the country. America is only as healthy as our citizenry. Our freedoms only as robust as those defending them.

We elect leaders to place country above party, address the most critical issues plaguing the nation and prevent future crisis from taking root. But Washington needs to face the facts: The political system itself is broken, wearing down too many leaders with endless fundraising demands and turning the job of elected representative into a never-ending campaign whose purpose is to vilify the other party. We used to have to arrange schedules around fundraisers for senators. It was considered the exception, and now it is the rule.

Leadership in Congress focuses more on the capacity of lawmakers to raise money, rather than their policy expertise and merit on legislative issues. The political parties and system supporting them have come to care more about majorities in the legislative branch than governing. Under this framework, it is not surprising that the landmark legislative achievements celebrated by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress over the past decade, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, were passed on party-line votes.

To be clear, this is not a Republican or Democratic problem, but a distinctly American one. Dysfunction existed before President Trump and unless it is addressed soon, will continue long after his tenure in the Oval Office. We are here calling for a return to values-based politics and leaders who will institute reforms to fix the political system now, not later.

There are some in Congress who are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. The Congressional Reformers Caucus, the first-of-its kind, bipartisan group of more than 20 Republicans and Democrats, formed to craft policies aimed at reforming Congress and the political system. At first glance, the caucus co-chairs look like ideological opposites, but both former prosecutors Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) understand the value of accountability in politics.

Members of both parties have called on President Trump to nominate qualified individuals to the nation’s election watchdog, a first line of defense against foreign countries like Russia interfering in our politics. And there’s a bipartisan appetite by lawmakers who want to see substantive reforms adopted to bolster the country’s elections against paid, online political advertising from foreign bad actors.

Our experience tells us that if America lacks the will and moral strength to elect leaders who will repair the divisions in the country, then dysfunction in government will continue to be the greatest threat facing the nation. Our leadership on the global stage will diminish. Democracy as a way of life, and the freedoms only it can offer, will suffer. We must strengthen our bonds, not deepen our divisions. Each of us should consider the principles and values the Founders wove into America’s DNA and how our government is framed in their image.

Both of us serve as part of the Issue One ReFormers Caucus, along with nearly 200 other former elected officials from both parties, dedicated to political and ethics reform. Tonight, more than 50 of us will convene in Philadelphia, the birthplace of democracy, to rededicate ourselves to renewing the promise of our Founders for our nation and launch a national campaign to fix the broken political system. It is our hope that the rest of the country follows in their stead and begins supporting solutions to fix our politics now.

Tom Ridge served as the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and was the 43rd governor of Pennsylvania. He also served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Tom Daschle served as Senate majority leader and also represented South Dakota in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both are members of the Issue One ReFormers Caucus.

Tags Americans Congress Constitution Democrats Donald Trump Government Kathleen Rice Ken Buck lawmakers Politics Republicans United States Washington

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