The Unasked Question

You probably didn’t hear it here first. but the message you’ve seen many times on this site over the course of the last several months is now being reported much more widely in the media: American politics are broken and are diseased not by a difference of ideas but by a schism in identity.

Here is US News and World Report on States of Hate from last week.

Last month, NPR did a very detailed story looking at many of the same sources we covered in this Prezi and the pilot of 435 Voices.

and here’s a more unlikely source – The Financial Times tells us how Partisanship sates Americans’ lust for belonging.

What is in short supply in all of these accounts is what to do about it. In ten months we are going to vote for President. Either Donald Trump or one of several Democrats appears likely to occupy the White House in 2021 and beyond. There seems to be a common hope that a new (or somehow the existing) President can fix all this. But since we are in the midst of the football playoffs I’ll go with a sports analogy here; expecting any of them to be successful with our current Congress is like expecting Patrick Mahomes to go the Super Bowl with the guys from Moe’s Tavern on his offensive line.

You could roll up the best traits of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan and still not have a President that could navigate the soul-crushing dysfunction they are likely to meet with in the 117th Congress. But as Reagan himself said (while) “there are no easy answers, there are simple ones.” If we want partisanship out of the halls of Washington we are going to have to vote it out.

And yet…

Take a minute right now and go see if you can find the news articles about candidates that are pledging to work with the other side (whatever that other side is) to actually make policy in the next Congress….I’ll wait right here.

You will recognize these stories because the candidates will be quoted as saying things like, “we are going to try some new things to confront the many challenges Americans face today, we are going to measure how well these solutions are working and then, without assigning blame, we’re going to try new things if they are not working as well as we hope.”

Oh…back so soon?

Instead, what we have, even in the districts where there are competitive primaries, is candidates lining up to campaign on the status quo.

This is a screenshot of a Google News Search using just the last names of the five Republican candidates running to replace Bradley Byrne in the Alabama 1st congressional district. It’s hard to see, but you should be able to replicate the search here. The district is reliably Republican, voting with the GOP candidate every year since the early 1960s so it is likely that one of these five men will be elected (made even more likely by the fact that is almost impossible to find any articles about the three Democrats running for the seat). You can see the results for a search about the Democrats running here.

But it’s pretty tough to find much difference between the five. The few articles suggest they all support the President across the board on national policy. There isn’t much coverage of local issues to go on but in the brief coverage of how to pay for a federal highway bridge, for instance, there doesn’t appear to be much daylight either (they all agree that the federal government should pay for it instead of having a local toll while also agreeing that the feds should continue to lower taxes). It seems pretty safe to say that whichever Republican wins the primary eight weeks from today is likely to win again next fall and go to Washington to do, wait for it…exactly what their predecessor has been doing.

As strange as it sounds, though, the voters along the coast in the Alabama-1st have more choices than many of their fellow residents. Super Tuesday Primaries in all but two of Alabama’s other six districts have been canceled because there is either no challenger at all or just two candidates running against each other, these will both go automatically to the general election in November.

There will be some new faces among the folks headed from Alabama to Washington next January. One representative, Marthy Roby, is retiring, and another, the aforementioned Bradley Byrne, is running for the Senate so there will be at least two new members sworn in to replace them. But unless something changes, that delegation doesn’t seem likely to behave much differently than this one.

But there is still time to ask candidates, in Alabama and elsewhere, one telling question that could make a difference (or better yet encourage your local media to ask it for you)... “If you go (back) to Washington, what are you, personally, going to do to fix this problem?”

435 Voices will be back asking local journalists what they have heard for answers to this question later this month.