Political parties: please make peace
Published: Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 16:06
A recent article on the website of National Public Radio talks about how Democrats are reviving Medicare as a political weapon. Many politicians are basing their campaigns on using programs such as these to divide and splinter the body politic.
In May, Democrat Kathy Hochul ran a campaign for the House seat in New York's 26th District. A good chunk of her campaign was based off of her opposition to the Republican budget that was passed in April, which included a plan from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that would have essentially privatized part of this important program for seniors and those with disabilities. Her campaign was successful, and many political experts attribute her victory to her steadfast vow to save Medicare.
While highlighting differences between policy proposals to government programs is important and necessary to our political dialogue, demonizing the other side in the process leaves behind many deep wounds and resentments among voters. It creates sharp divisions that leave both sides digging their heels in rather than finding ways to work together.
Medicare is an important program that all of us pay toward, and no doubt some of us will rely on in our golden years. Our elected officials need to recognize that the need to protect programs like this one is something that extends far beyond the politics of the moment. When they speak, people listen.
The heated debate over Ryan's proposal, for example, got so bad that a liberal group, known as The Agenda Project, created an advertisement demonizing this Republican proposal for Medicare. In the ad, titled "America the Beautiful," a man in a suit is seen pushing a smiling, elderly woman through the wilderness in a wheelchair. At the end of the ad, the man is shown throwing the woman off of her wheelchair and down the cliff, then turning around and walking away from the cliff.
This type of advertising is notoriously effective; it is also wrong. This ad follows traditional political strategy on this issue by doing two simple things: making you afraid of it and telling you who is to blame for it. Winning elections this way, however, makes it even harder to fix problems.
Scared voters end up being against other proposals that may come from an opposing political party because now they don't appear trustworthy. The end result is that politicians don't work with each other, and problems linger.
This is resulting in many elected officials that do want to reach out and seek consensus being driven from their party or from politics altogether. Former Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), was a Republican for the majority of his political life. He also liked to work with Democrats, and many labeled him a "moderate." He moved to the Democratic party, where he hoped he would find a more favorable audience, but lost his party's nomination to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who eventually lost the race to Republican Pat Toomey.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is another senator known for reaching out to the other side, but he was eventually driven out of his party over his support for the Iraq war. Instead, he kept his seat as an Independent.
Leaders need to be mindful of the message they send out and make sure that they do not use issues to divide voters. This makes it difficult to come together and address the challenges that programs like Medicare, Medicaid and others face. We as constituents also have a responsibility to be open-minded and consider points of view that we may disagree with. We cannot automatically dismiss an idea because it comes from a political party that we don't like. Maintaining a tone of civility in our politics is the only way to ensure that we are able to work together and solve our country's problems.