By Jim Elliott
America’s elected legislators could get a lot done if the political parties just got out of the way.
Over the past few decades certain politicians, political parties and independent political groups have planted and nurtured the trees of ideological hatred, and the American public harvests that bitter fruit. This is not doing anyone any good and it is time for it to stop.
This election year American institutions of government are perceived with a public animosity that is unequalled in our history. While the foundations of those institutions are as sound as the constitutions, national and state, that created them,, they have been villainized by the extreme right as the problem and the left has used this as an excuse for timidity and inaction. This is an untenable situation for our state and nation.
Since political parties and ad hoc political organizations have led us to this impasse, it should be up to those same factions to lead us out of it, but they are so hidebound in their animosity toward each other that that seems unlikely.
If the parties are not willing to step aside so that the best interests of the citizens can be represented, then the task is left to the elected politicians themselves.
Fortunately, in Montana a number of Republican legislators have risen to the occasion and have worked with their Democratic counterparts in the minority to get something done. They have been demonized by their own party, but have stood firm in their convictions and have repeatedly defeated “flat-earth” primary opponents.
The Democratic legislators are ecstatic about working with these Republican renegades because, frankly, it is the only avenue other than a governor’s veto for Democrats to have any influence on Montana’s future.
This has taken courage on the part of the Republicans and civility and cooperation on the part of the Democrats. It has also taken compromise. Both should be praised for this. So, too, should the voters who put them there.
Democrats (who have their own ideological purity issues) may dream that these responsible Republicans have seen the Democratic light and have come to their senses. That is not the case. They are pragmatists who understand that the purpose of government is to serve the people which means, essentially, that you have to have a sound economy and you can’t do that without an educated, healthy populace, and an infrastructure that is not crumbling.
This viewpoint was best summed up years ago by my friend, John Cobb, a former state senator from Augusta and a self-described Reagan Republican, who told me, “I just want things to work.” This is the opposite of bringing government to a standstill because it fails the ”purity” test.
Those who should not be praised are the party operatives and leaders who shriek the loudest against the members and beliefs of the other party, condemning them as morally wrong and politically indefensible. Candidates of each party are labeled with offensive nicknames and despicable traits by the other party in an exercise that doesn’t even approach the intellectual level of kindergartners’ insults in a sandbox.
True, there are third party entities like the Koch brothers or George Soros that cannot be controlled by party leadership; but they can be disavowed by party leadership—both parties, simultaneously.
It is trite, and it has been said many times before without effect, but it is true: we have to put our nation first and our politics second.
Jim Elliott is a former chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and a former state senator from Trout Creek. This article originally appeared on Last Best News.