The causes of bitter partisanship are diverse. They include the political realignment of the South in the wake of the civil rights movement and the partisan wounds of Watergate. Add to that the indignities inflicted on Republicans during the 40-year Democratic reign in the House and the backbench GOP tactics that ultimately broke that hold in 1994. The increasingly partisan media, meanwhile, scorn compromise, while aggressive campaign spending by the parties and wealthy outside contributors undermines the principle of local representation.
The result is dysfunction. The parties have become militant. Partisan interests often override the common good. Party leaders demand lockstep loyalty and punish individual action, stalling a legislative system that requires deliberation and a degree of consensus.
To map a way out of this condition, let us consider a date in the future by which we have restored Congress to its design and relation to the presidency: a House of vibrant debate, a Senate of cool deliberation, a strong People’s Branch keeping watch over the Executive and the nation’s purse. Let’s take the cautiously optimistic goal of 2033. By then the nation’s political map will have been redrawn twice by the decennial process of redistricting.
What needs to happen between now and then?
First, voters will have to exert unrelenting pressure to reform the drawing of congressional voting districts, the running of primary contests, and the funding of campaigns – all issues related to how Americans choose the people who represent them.
This kind of pressure is already bearing some fruit today. To correct the problem of gerrymandered voting districts that make no sense demographically but that reliably return partisans to the House, for instance, 13 states have put the job of district mapping in the hands of nonpartisan commissions.