A Rant on Politics from the Extreme Middle

I’ve been getting pretty fed up with politics lately. I know that’s a crazy thing for the Chairman of a PAC to say, but it’s true. Although American politics has always been pretty rough, during my lifetime I’ve seen it become increasingly partisan and needlessly brutal. While vigorous dissent and debate are the most basic elements of what makes our system of politics the most successful in the world, this Red Team/Blue Team attitude is killing us. Is it ever OK for a conservative to work with a liberal on areas of common concern and then get back to arguing? Or must we always disagree (even about topics we actually agree on) because people from the other team are a “threat to the nation’s well-being”? An increasing minority of Americans actually feels this way, and it makes me cringe.

Last month Pew Research published a study entitled “Political Polarization in the American Public.” This survey of 10,000 adult Americans showed that 27% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans actually think that the opposing party is a “threat to the nation’s well-being.” Really?!? Isn’t that a bit dramatic? Seems to me, the demise of debate and compromise is a bigger threat. What happened to being an American first and a party loyalist second?

But wait, there’s more. A recent study by Allegheny College found that nearly half of Americans believe civility is in decline. Because the immediacy of the internet creates a situation where people can create and consume editorial content in real time, disagreements can be blown out of proportion at light speed. Now, it’s not enough just to disagree with someone. Instead, political disagreements have become gross exercises in personal destruction: Opponents are vilified — even within the same political party — and there’s no room for compromise on just about anything.

The thing that keeps me engaged, in spite of the negativity, is the possibility of light at the end of the tunnel. The Pew study shows that while the political middle is shrinking, it is not gone. There is still a silent majority (39% mixed views and 40% with a lean to the right or left) who are not uniformly liberal or conservative. The Allegheny study found that 87% of Americans think people can respectfully disagree and 95% believe civility is important to our democracy. So, in spite of a horribly partisan and vitriolic vocal minority, most of us still think this democracy thing can work. The silent majority should start speaking up.

That’s why I continue to choose to be active at our Chamber and to support our PAC. The members of FRESPAC spend many hours meeting with candidates for local, state, and occasionally national offices. When we do, our main focus is obviously on whether the candidate understands business and government’s proper relationship to business. Secondarily, we attempt to evaluate the likelihood of a candidate being effective at forwarding our pro-business agenda if elected. This is a big part of the process, as vitriolic or overly partisan people will be less effective. That’s pretty much it. The “R” or “D” before someone’s name rarely comes into the conversation. As a result, in the June Primary, we endorsed 18 candidates of mixed political persuasions. Happily, voters agreed with our picks – ALL OF OUR ENDORSEES were either elected outright or advanced to the general election. But our work is not done.

If you agree that issues are more important than parties and that civility, debate, and principled compromise are vital to good government, please consider supporting our mission.

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