Time to End Hyper-Partisanship

11/03/2010 12:27 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Political pundits will be cogitating for months about the long term implications of yesterday's congressional elections. But if the voice of the people illustrates anything, it is that the Americans are worried and anxious about their economic future, and want politicians to end the bickering and hyper-partisanship which has dominated our national political scene for far too long. They want our political leaders to come together, where possible, to explore solutions and seek common ground on issues as contentious as the debt crisis and our economic and job conundrum, to problems as diverse as energy independence, educational excellence, and the rebuilding of our national infrastructure. And for the time being, at least, they believe that divided government will best ensure progress.

The people in this country are smart. They recognize our national problems are large and serious. They resist instant and in many cases false and unrealistic promises. They also know that the words of H.L. Mencken -- "There is always an easy solution to every human problem-- neat, plausible, and wrong" -- ring true in this rapidly changing world.

But the vast majority of Americans yesterday laid down a marker that they do not want America to slip to a second or third class economic power and they demand that our political system regain its resiliency to solve national problems and to work across party lines to reach common ground. They are deeply worried about our ability to reach solutions on almost any major national issue. They believe America's future and their own families' futures are at stake.

We know that partisanship itself is not the problem. There are serious differences of opinion on almost every public issue, and they should be fully and deeply debated and discussed. But as Thomas Jefferson said, "not every difference in opinion is a difference of principle." The American public is growing increasingly tired of our political leaders seeming to argue for the sake of winning power, and our political leaders rarely reaching a satisfactory conclusion on any issue of public policy that benefits the public as a whole. Americans want to believe that the art of politics is to promote the common good where necessary, not to serve as a podium for the perpetual gain of political power by our elected leaders. If the election demonstrates anything, it is that the public is weary of excessive gamesmanship and is demanding that American politics become more realistic and responsive. And we have all grown more cynical about where any of this can happen.

This month, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) will launch The Democracy Project -- a bipartisan policy initiative that seeks to analyze and advocate for improvements to our democratic institutions. Co-chaired by former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, AOL co-founder Steve Case, and me, The Democracy Project seeks to propose strategies and policies that will strengthen civil discourse in government and improve the process of Congressional redistricting. The Project will stress the value of procedural reforms that promote a more efficient government that serves all Americans more effectively.

That famous American political scientist George Burns once said that it is too bad that the only people who know how to run the government are busy cutting hair and driving cabs. He may be right, but practically speaking we need cab drivers, barbers... and a whole generation of political leaders dedicated first and foremost to solving the nation's long term problems. Many of the nation's greatest legislative achievements have resulted from principled compromises by Democrats and Republicans. Only in this spirit of bipartisanship and working together can the public interest be served. Only then will America continue to be the world's political leader and economic engine. And Americans hope that our president and the new Congress can lead the way.
Dan Glickman, a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, served as Secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton Administration and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-KS) from 1977-1994.