When I see the divisiveness and lack of cooperation in Washington, D.C., between our two major political parties, it’s no wonder frustration continues to grow in our country. What can be done to reduce the bitterness and stalemate? How do we work together to address our nation’s issues?
First of all, partisan politics is not necessarily unhealthy. It has its purpose. Many of us like to identify with one of the two major political parties because we believe in their respective platforms. This is a key component to our political system. In my case, as a lifelong Republican, I believe my party’s principles are what are best for America.
For a two-party system to work, however, there have to be times when compromise is sought, especially during times of prolonged stalemate. You can be loyal to your respective political party, but you must first be loyal to the people you represent and find common ground on at least some of these difficult issues that we face today. This is what leaders do.
A great example of leadership and finding common ground at the national level occurred in 1964 regarding passage of the Civil Rights Act. At that time the Democrats held 66 of 100 seats in the U.S. Senate. What is interesting to note is that 23 Democrats, mostly from the South, did not support the Civil Rights Act. This bloc of Democrats began the longest filibuster in U.S. Senate history. This fact is often forgotten.
Republican votes were needed to stop the filibuster. Democratic majority leader Mike Mansfield and conservative Republican minority leader Everett Dirksen put aside partisan politics and replaced it with patriotism and worked together to end the filibuster to pass one of the most significant pieces of legislation in U.S. history. Had it not been for Republicans (27 of 34) supporting the bill, the Civil Rights Act would not have passed.
Another example of leadership and doing what was best for America was the passage of the 1983 Social Security Reform. Seen by liberals as an unbreakable promise to American citizens and by conservatives as a program that could threaten to bankrupt the government, it’s easy to see why Social Security is not a popular topic of discussion in Washington. But in the early 1980s, our federal government had no choice; the Social Security Trust Fund was facing a real deficit.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed a commission to find solutions to the problem. When the commission made its recommendations in 1983, it was Republican Sen. Bob Dole and Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, leaders respected by both political parties, who led a bipartisan group of legislators in turning the recommendations into legislation. Dole and Moynihan reminded their colleagues to focus on solving the problem at hand and not get swayed by the partisan debate. In the end, the group’s reforms to the Social Security Act passed and were signed into law by President Reagan.
Debate and disagreement is healthy, but gridlock rarely promotes anything positive. Leaders must step forward. I guess it’s easy to be critical of those in Washington, D.C., and other levels of government as well. Being an elected official is not easy, but I always thought the reason people run for elected office is to be a public servant, not a political tool.
I think many who seek elected office do indeed want to serve the public and many are successful and serve their constituents well. Unfortunately, some elected officials become influenced by special interest groups or party leaders who are more concerned about power rather than people. We’ve seen it happen in all levels of government. It’s nothing new, but this practice is disheartening and disrespectful to the citizens who place their trust into their elected officials.
Our Founding Fathers were brilliant people who gave us a working form of government second to none. It has a built-in system of checks and balances and it works when those in office abide by its principles. We need more patriots and fewer politicians.
As a member of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, it is an honor to serve the people of Cumberland County. I can tell you that the entire Board of Commissioners, which includes Jim Hertzler (Democrat), Gary Eichelberger (Republican) and I (Republican), are working well together to address the many issues that face Cumberland County. We are a functional board and we respect each other’s opinions. When we reach topics of disagreement, we discuss them and fully vet the issues and move forward.
It can be challenging at times but it’s part of the job and we accept it. Whether we are Republican or Democrat or something else, we are public servants first. As stated earlier, party loyalty is admirable but the best interests of our citizens should always be top priority. I applaud those who have not forgotten the people they represent. We just need more of you!
Vince DiFilippo is Chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners.