About a week after the November election, I sat down to lunch with two friends from my days in the legislature, one a former high-ranking AFL-CIO officer, and the other a conservative former state senator.
Now, these are two people you might imagine have nothing in common — a union boss and a right-wing activist. And yet, the conversation quickly turned to a point of agreement: a shared sense of despair about the complete and total breakdown of compromise in public life.
Whether the debt ceiling debate in 2011 or the fiscal cliff standoff playing out right now, our leaders have brought this country too often to the brink of financial chaos.
Whether or not we cross the line is almost beside the point. This extreme brinksmanship has undermined a bedrock assumption that Americans have always held about our government: the notion that common good will always trump parochial interests in the end. Nowadays, we’re not so sure.
The inability of public servants to compromise is narcissistic, reckless, unwise and embarrassing. When the National Hockey League flirts with its second canceled season in less than a decade, we shake our heads in frustration. When Congress and the president stubbornly steer the country to within a hair’s breadth of recession, it should stir us to fury.
The consequences of fiscal mismanagement are ruinous. Unemployment places financial stress on families, which in turn leads to deeper social problems. This is not a hypothetical chain of events. And yet, ideologues on the left and right treat this debate like an academic discussion over ideological abstractions.
I’m grateful for that a small handful of leaders view themselves not as Democrats or Republicans, but Americans. I count Gov. John Hickenlooper as one. While I don’t agree with him on everything, I appreciate his willingness to stand up to the extreme elements in his own party. Would that there were more such leaders.
It’s time to stop rewarding partisanship. If we as citizens continue to empower the politics of petty solipsism, we will all be its victims.
Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”