By Patrick Murphy
Historians have written that among George Washington’s many achievements, one of his longest-lasting was the decision not to run for a third term as president. As the most popular figure of the post-Revolutionary War period, he could have ruled like a king and stayed in office for decades. The peaceful transfer of power Washington initiated has been the hallmark of American democracy for the past 200 years.
Ultimately, his decision to step aside is an acknowledgment that the authority of this nation comes from the people of America, not any one person, political party or ideology. That was the power of Washington’s restraint and wisdom.
Our country has faced a handful of similar turning points, and I believe we are at another crossroads now – a time when trust in our federal representatives is at its lowest, when the truth about objective events is questioned or dismissed, when the ideals our country was founded on are too easily rejected.
Another element of Washington’s decision was his weariness of the nascent political parties that were forming in our young nation. He wrote that partisan politicians “regard neither truth nor decency; attacking every character, without respect to persons – public or private – who happen to differ from themselves in politics.”
These grim words foreshadowed our current political culture, where working with someone on the other side of the aisle has been vilified to the point of impossibility.
Despite broad consensus in creating a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, no immigration deal can be struck. Despite an overwhelming number of Americans favoring improving the Affordable Care Act, no progress has been made. Despite wide opposition to oil drilling off our pristine coastline, exemptions are only granted as political favors.
The causes of this extreme partisan paralysis are significant, but definable. Excessive gerrymandering has forced lawmakers to run in increasingly one-sided districts. Our media landscape has become an echo chamber where you only need absorb the points you already agree with.
And thanks to devastating court rulings in campaign finance law, outside groups with no accountability to voters can spend tens of millions of dollars to influence elections. My first race for Congress was a $30 million TV slugfest that was decided by fewer than 2,200 votes.
Over the past several months, I have visited college campuses across the state with Rep. David Jolly, a former colleague and my opponent in the 2016 U.S. Senate race. While we come from different parties, we shared many of the same priorities in Congress, from addressing climate change to enacting campaign finance reform. After leaving Washington, we both realized it was vital to share just how toxic the halls of Congress had become – and what it will take to correct the divisive course our democracy is on.
The extreme partisans who Washington once observed “regard neither truth nor decency” will always be with us, but it is up to the voters across Florida and the nation to make sure our voices are heard even louder.
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