Congress is on track to record the lowest annual approval rating in Gallup polling history. The most recent Gallop Poll shows an approval rating of just 13 percent. Last month a New York Times/CBS poll showed Congress’ approval rating at only nine percent.
Washington has over the years been plagued by divisive partisanship on both sides of the aisle, keeping needed legislation from being passed and halting debate on the important issues. While political differences and debate are part of what makes this country a strong democracy, when partisanship trumps civil discourse it can poison the policies and laws that government is supposed to enact.
This summer’s debt ceiling crisis in Washington, D.C., almost brought down the American people. It’s more important now than ever for politicians to get along because of the seriousness of the problems at hand.
The present state of American politics is marked by oppositional politics which has left voters cynical. If you read the headlines, listen to the news or visit social websites you are blasted with vitriol attacks by each party on the other.
Bipartisanship requires hard work and entails trying to find common ground. But at the end of the day it enables serious problem solving.
Compromise is a good word, a positive value. In fact, the American political system is built on the bedrock of compromise. Compromise requires leadership. The only way to get that done is to work together. If America wants to remain strong it’s got to learn how to solve these problems in the context of our political system.
James Madison argued that a danger to democracies were factions, which he defined as a group that pushed its interests to the detriment of the national interest. While the framers of our Constitution did not think that political parties would play a role in American politics, political parties have long been a major force and the nation has alternated between periods of intense party rivalry and partisanship, as well as periods of bipartisanship.
There have been times in American history when two sides have come together in the interest of the country. In 1787, The Great Compromise established the House and the Senate so that both the smaller states and the larger, more populous states could have equal representation.
Since then, there has been the 1964 Civil Rights Act which gave equal rights to all races, Social Security and welfare reform and the McCain-Feingold Act which revised the use of campaign contributions. In all of these cases politicians have put aside their partisan differences to find common ground and enact positive change.
Maine has been blessed often with politicians who have emerged as great leaders, standing head and shoulders above the rest. Joshua Chamberlain, Hannibal Hamlin, Thomas Reed, James G. Blaine, Margaret Chase Smith, Frederick Payne, Ed Muskie, George Mitchell, Angus King, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are names that come to mind. Their leadership was rooted in compromise and working for all of the people. Each has set aside differences, reached across the aisle and worked for Maine.
Another young politician is on the horizon who is made of the tall timber that represents the best of Maine. He is Kevin Raye.
From the moment he was sworn in as President of the Maine Senate, he took on a strong leadership role for all of Maine: Republicans, Democrats and independents. His leadership reached across the aisle, rang loudly in Augusta and echoed across all of Maine.
Kevin’s political skill, charm, eloquence and tenacity gave us one of the first solid legislative sessions in many years. It was marked by real progress when often, in the past, members were playing defense. Maine had some real gains this year. Kevin pledged early in the legislative session to give the minority party a voice in deliberations and he stuck to that promise.
In 2012 we will cast ballots for U.S. Senator and two members of Congress. I hope to see Kevin Raye’s name on the ballot for Congress in the Second District. He has the skills, ability, work ethic and civility to make Congress once again work for the people of Maine and America.
John Miller is a member of the Eastport City Council.