Meet in the middle

Polarization is the enemy of democracy. It is because our elected leaders refuse to compromise that Congress has an abysmally low approval rating — a 2008 Gallup poll put it at 18 percent.Partisanship in government in New York is so profound that it paralyzed the state legislature for a month last summer and continues to prevent the body from passing any effective legislation still.There isn’t a single party to blame here. Democrats are quick to bemoan Republican senators for threatening to filibuster and for placing blanket holds on appointments, yet they exercised the same tactics while they were in the minority – Democrats used the filibuster 54 times in the 109th  Congress, and both Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., both placed holds on legislation.Yes, the GOP has recently become the “Party of No,” initially balking at an opportunity to discuss health care with the president and Democratic leadership, then criticizing the president’s compromises as “not enough.”It is frankly embarrasing that Congress isn’t unified behind even the most humanitarian and non-political issues. A bill introduced by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., that would prevent defense contracts from going to companies that don’t allow their employees to sue them, which was drafted after a female employee of KBR/Halliburton, who was raped by co-workers, was denied the right to litigate, received 30 nay votes — all from Republicans. Is protecting the rights of rape victims not above the political fray?Congress has lost the faith of the people, and rightfully so.  A room full of fourth graders could maintain better decorum. Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst at the president’s speech last October was a more public example of the middle school playground that is the United States House of Representatives. I watched part of the floor debate the Affordable Health Care for America Act on C-SPAN. As the Democrats held the floor and attempted to wrap up debate in order to move to a vote, they were interrupted every five seconds — and that’s not an overstatement — by Republicans shouting “Mr. Speaker!” and “point of order!” until being gaveled into silence.In order to succeed, a democracy relies on citizens’ ability to compromise. A functioning democracy is slow to adapt and change, a dysfunctional one grinds governing to a halt. This isn’t an issue that only plagues the federal government, as the New York episode illustrates.It is easy to take a partisan swing. It’s hard to reach across the aisle and say “let’s work this out.” Lyndon Johnson said of himself “I’m a compromiser and a maneuverer. I try to get something. That’s the way our system works.” Polarized politics are ruining democracy in the middle.  All we have to do is meet somewhere in the middle.