OPINION | WOODY BASSETT: Nation needs politicians eager to govern, without vitriol, from the middle

U.S. politicians should be eager to govern from middle

It's unfathomable how low politics and public discourse have sunk in recent years. Our country's politics are toxic and dysfunctional, now broken to such an extent that every American citizen should be alarmed, regardless of their own political preferences and beliefs.

We've lost our way, trapped in a maddening downward spiral that threatens the stability and future of America. Blind and bitter partisanship is ripping the country apart.

It must stop. Enough is enough. We are so much better than this.

Politics have always been strident at times but now it permeates everything in daily American life. People now fight about everything, no matter how trivial it is. The constant noise and chaos is taking a toll. Intolerance and fake outrage abounds. Many in the media, especially broadcast outlets, operate under a business model that caters strictly either to the political right or left, shamelessly and recklessly driving a wedge between the American people just to make big monetary profits. Social media has become a tool to spread lies, misinformation and crazy conspiracy theories. Civility in the public arena has all but vanished. Compromise is now considered a sign of weakness or a sell-out.

Political tribalism is harming the country in untold ways. Any independence is frowned upon. We aren't supposed to think for ourselves but to simply follow like sheep. We are divided into angry, distrustful camps. We are expected to pick a "side" and unflinchingly stick to it on everything, never letting the truth or objective facts and evidence get in the way. "My way or the highway" is the order of the day. That's no way to manage a business or any type of organization. And it's sure not the way to run a country with a population of 330 million people.

Party seems to matter more than the country. The two major political parties and too many politicians are willing to do or say anything to win an election, despite how dishonest or inflammatory it is. Even if it diminishes the country, further divides the body politic or imperils our democracy, winning at all costs is all that matters to some.

But the truth is no one is winning -- we are all losing and so is our country and our cherished institutions.

Are Republicans in office just to beat Democrats? Are Democrats in office just to beat Republicans? Isn't the real purpose of politics to present ideas and to have zealous yet constructive debate on competing views about issues that are important to citizens from all walks of life? Isn't the intended purpose of holding office to do the nation's business, to engage in responsible, pragmatic problem-solving and, when necessary, to demonstrate a willingness to compromise for the common good?

There is almost no middle ground in our current politics. Independents, plus moderate Democrats and Republicans, feel alienated from our political system. Extremism on the far right and left of the political spectrum is drowning out the "center" which is where we need to be, or close to it, if we want the country to remain stable and have the capability to get crucial things done for the American people. To steer a canoe down the middle of a river, you have to paddle on both the left and right sides to keep it under control and moving forward. If you paddle on only one side, you won't get far and might even crash.

The way to restore some sanity to American politics and return the country to a better place is for enough voters, Republicans and Democrats alike, to demand that those elected retreat from this crazy game of mutual destruction and re-discover the value of bipartisanship. That doesn't mean people have to forfeit their own deeply held beliefs. But it does mean both political parties need to move away from the fringes of their respective parties and play politics between the 40-yard lines.

Democrats and Republicans do best for the country as a whole when they govern from or near the center.

Our politics need more hope and less fear, more common sense and less nonsense, more civility and less hatefulness, more listening and less talking, more compromise and less gridlock.

We need more politicians on both sides of the aisle who are willing to sometimes challenge their own base instead of mindlessly following in lockstep. We need more politicians who are unencumbered by party politics and capable of taking a path up the middle or near it when to do so is in the best interests of the country.

We need more politicians with courage. We need more politicians who are truth-tellers and voices of reason. Above all, we need politicians who understand you have to be willing to lose an election in order to be worthy of winning an election.

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