I heard about Evan Bayh’s decision to leave Congress because he felt it was becoming too partisan. The real problem isn’t partisanship. Bold views and strong positions are fine. Democratic debate and deliberation can be enhanced by them.
The problem is the intransigence and belligerence that has taken over Congress and much of the rest of the public — a profound distrust of people “on the other side,” an unwillingness to compromise, a bitterness and anger disproportionate to issues being discussed.
Anger makes good television, but it’s fake and it teaches Americans the wrong lessons. Anger also can win elections (Senate Republicans haven’t given Obama any votes because they’ve been eyeing the 2010 midterms since he took office, hoping for a rerun of 1994), but partisan anger is just as fake, and it undermines the capacity of our democracy to do the public’s business.
A Thought on Evan Bayh and Partisan America
I believe that Reich is referring to the anger that we see on the news shows and in speeches by politicians, as well as the political tactics of the last few years. In that case, I think he's right.
But there is definitely real anger out here in America. It's not the exclusive province of either the right, the left, or the folks in between. It's rooted in what's been happening in the last couple of decades - the diminished prospects, followed by a troubled economy, wars we aren't winning and probably shouldn't be in, and growing anxiety about how we can get by. Those are things most of us feel out here, it's just how we think they can be remedied that separates us.
The problem is that there are no solutions coming out of that fake anger Reich is writing about. Reich is correct - there's nothing wrong with partisanship, as long as it's honest support for differing ideas about how to shape our society. The current debates, unfortunately, are about as genuine as professional wrestling. Democrats have spent most of the last three years trying to convince us that they're powerless to do anything about how the government works, even though they've been in charge of at least one branch of it during that time. Republicans seem to have given up making even the flimsiest pretense of actually wanting to work on the issues. Our government is dysfunctional because the the leadership of both parties like it that way, at least compared to the alternative of trying to make things work.
The longer that situation continues, the more the rest of America will look like what it sees on its news shows.