Tag Archives: partisanship

Achtung: A Consensus Crisis

dog_snarlingAs gridlock once again descends on Capitol Hill in the form of a government shutdown, a recent Washington Post piece by E.J. Dionne, Jr. provides a thoughtful perspective on how the United States is falling behind in much more than education and the global economy. Our history as a government of and by the people is also at stake. We are no longer leaders in the art of compromise and consensus building.

Germany, our post-WWII progeny, has something to teach us on that front.

“The Germans don’t buy the zero-sum thinking that government and markets — or liberty and equality — can’t be pursued jointly,”  Jackson Janes, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies told Dionne. “They argue about the same issues we face — how much social, how much market and how much government do we want? — but their starting point is that all three should be working together: capitalism with a strong welfare dimension steered by a government which is an ally, not the enemy.”

Berlin Wall

California leads the nation in many ways – some good, some bad. Our state’s recent history suggests that Washington is following Sacramento’s inability to develop consensus in legislation, regulation and public policy issues.  The extremists on both ends of the spectrum too often hold the state, and now the nation, hostage. Ironically, when government shuts down, our elected officials still collect their paychecks and are frequently immune from the impacts of the laws and red tape they impose.

California and the U.S. have built their own version of the Berlin Wall with ideology, not concrete. Instead of dividing people, they are severing the ability to hammer out bipartisan agreements that constructively benefit the citizenry. A mantra of this blog is bipartisanship. But that appears to simply be vapor, a naive dream.

Sometimes I think what we need, if not a forceful third party of moderates from both sides of the aisle, is a parliamentary system. Multiple parties would force coalitions. And gridlock could be broken up at anytime by calling for a vote of confidence at any time irrespective of the eternal election cycle.

When it comes to learning from Germany, Dionne sums it up nicely:

“Germans applied to their own best traditions some useful pointers about reaching workable compromises in a democracy fromus — from the America of FDR, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. Why do Germans remember ideas from our history that the shutdowners dearly want us to forget?”

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Panetta: Partisanship A Major Threat to National Security

Bone

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci had a nice profile recently on Leon Panetta, a native Californian and statesman par excellence.

I’ve always thought of Panetta, who recently retired from a long and distinguished career, as someone who always viewed his responsibilities the way all elected officials should: as public servants. From congressman and White House chief of staff to director of the OMB or CIA, here is a man who has always seemed to act and speak with a profound respect for our nation and its democratic institutions. Pragmatism over ideology. Policy over politics. Respect over vitriol. Duty over personal aggrandizement.

What really jumped off the page of Marinucci’s piece was Panetta’s concern over extreme partisanship and how it poses one our country’s most serious threats to national security. This, remember, is coming from a guy who was in charge of the CIA and Department of Defense. He knows a little bit about what the United States is up against. When he says one of our greatest dangers is ourselves, that bears attention.

Leon Panetta

 If you wonder why we need more people like Panetta in government, check out this passage from the Chronicle piece:

“The avuncular Panetta gets deadly serious when he talks about what he believes is one of the greatest dangers to America’s future – political partisanship that, he said, has never been more divisive or discouraging.

Washington “has really become dysfunctional,” said Panetta, who began his political career as a Republican, “and when that happens, in many ways that becomes a greater national security threat than almost anything else.”

“I’m sensing that – for whatever reason – we’re in a testing period now as to whether some of this can change,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think this is a time when change is going to happen – not from the top down – but from the bottom up.”

His mission now, Panetta said, is “to get young people who are not trapped by partisanship to recognize that things can be different – if they’re willing to take the risk involved with getting elected to public office.”

He’s encouraged, he said, because the new crop of students who hope to become public servants is less attached to “strong ideological edge” of their parents’ generation.

“They’re much more pragmatic; they’re much more willing to see if problems can be solved,” he said. “I don’t see them as being tied to the kind of party label as you see playing out in Washington – and in Sacramento for that matter.”

Let’s hope Panetta is as successful with this mission as he was throughout his career. We need more leaders like him.

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