A Parting Thought on Civility and Partisanship by Congressman Francis Rooney

One month ago America closed the book on a highly contentious campaign season. The aggression and negativity was not only limited to Presidential politics – it was present in campaigns for federal, state, and even local offices all across

Far too often we heard from candidates talking about what’s wrong with “the other guy” and not nearly enough from
those candidates about why the ideas and policies they supported were better for our country, or their community. Negativity and personal attacks have become an acceptable norm in politics.

When I ran for Congress a little over four years ago, I spent my time, energy, and resources talking to the voters about what I would do if elected. It was a campaign based on ideas and a plan to help Southwest Florida and America.

The voters got the message, believed in the plan, and sent me to Washington to advocate for them. We focused on water quality, protecting our coast from the dangers of offshore drilling, securing our borders, fighting against out of control government spending, and fighting for lower prescription costs for our seniors.

On many of those issues, we had success. On others, we were at least able to move the ball forward and offer legislation that could lead to success in the future. These are not necessarily partisan issues, and I worked hard to build
relationships on both sides of the aisle to improve our chances of passing legislation and enacting it into law.

The sad fact is that Congress is broken. The quest for money and votes creates a “no risk” culture in which each side stays safely in its lanes and continually cedes power to the Executive Branch, in derogation of the Constitution.

Those few Members willing to act in a bipartisan fashion are routinely punished for it – either by party leadership or by their next primary opponent. The big issues of the day can never be solved without bipartisan agreements. That is the system the Founders created, checks and balances. The increase in highly partisan Congressional districts, wherein the “election” is essentially decided in the primary, has contributed to this breakdown.

Absent a majority in the House of Representatives, 60 Senators, and control of The White House, compromise is inevitable. Historically we have always found ways to come together to pass needed legislation to solve America’s challenges. It was never about “caving to the enemy”, but more about “collaborating for our country.”

As much as we need bipartisanship, there is another area in need of major improvement – civility. I am sure that most people who run for office do so out of a sincere desire to serve, but the nature of the system demonizes everyone; candidates, opponents, and supporters. We have a long history of civil discourse in America.

We can vigorously debate issues and legislation, fundamentally disagree to the core, yet still recognize that we are
all simply advocating for what we believe in. American values don’t include harassing others that we disagree with in restaurants or on the streets, stifling free speech, or launching character attacks in a committee hearing.

As much as Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson and Adams, all vigorously disagreed about policy, they could come
together to find acceptable measures to found the new country. I’ve written in the past about the reasons for our divide and our partisanship. Gerrymandered districts, social media algorithms, 24-hour news cycles, and elimination of the Fairness Doctrine have all had an effect.

We know the reasons, but until we are ready to support practical, not rhetorical, solutions and stop tolerating inciteful  rhetoric from the most extreme corners of the political spectrum, nothing will change. It is up to all of us to demand better – and to lead by example in our approach to those with which we may have differing views.

We can be the people that inspire change from this current sad state or the ones that ignite the fuse of further deepening and destructive discourse. Choose wisely!

Rep. Francis Rooney represented Florida’s 19th congressional district and previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008. Follow along with me on twitter @RepRooney.

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