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Dan Glickman and Olympia Snowe: Divisions needn’t prevent progress

  • Published Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Even after the most contentious elections, Congress and the president and Republicans and Democrats traditionally come together to find common ground for the good of the nation. But continuing postelection hyper-partisan showdowns have Americans wondering whether Washington, D.C., can perform its basic work, let alone take farsighted action to build a more vibrant future.

Democrats and Republicans are not just more divided ideologically but also less collaborative in practice than at any time in our careers. We suspect that, even more troublingly, much of America is similarly riven along party lines, goaded to partisanship by increasingly shrill voices in politics, the news media and well-funded interests.

For these reasons, we have joined with our co-chairmen, former Sens. Tom Daschle, Trent Lott and Dirk Kempthorne, and Americans from all walks of life, to create a Commission on Political Reform under the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Our group will hold “National Conversations on American Unity” around the country, starting March 6 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in California, inviting people across the nation to join the dialogue online. Average Americans of differing political and cultural views need to begin talking with one another, just as politicians in Washington must, if we are to bridge the partisan divide and compel action.

Today’s heightened divisions should not doom America to gridlock. The political system has to function despite this divide. To help move us forward, our commission will make policy recommendations in three areas: electoral system reform, congressional reform and encouragement of greater public service.

America’s electoral system pushes the parties to the ideological extremes, producing candidates further to the right and left than average citizens. Gerrymandered congressional districts produce predictably partisan representatives from each party. Close elections have become the exception when they should be seen as normal. And concerns about the ability to vote undermine confidence in the system.

Congress has centralized power in the hands of a few leaders rather than allowing committee members of both parties to have input and shape consensus. The majority party seeks to quash the ideas of the minority party, while the minority seeks to delay or block Congress from considering important legislation.

Public service greatly interests many young people today in part because of the democratizing platforms of social media. But partisan warfare discourages qualified people of all ages from public service and breeds cynicism. We will recommend ways to make it easier to get involved.

Our founders knew what we in our hearts still know today – that our political system must allow us to strongly advocate our different views, but still agree on solutions to the problems that we face together.

Former Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican, and former Wichita congressman Dan Glickman, a Democrat, co-chair the Commission on Political Reform.

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