About Our Culture of Division and Partisanship – Let’s talk

Congressman Francis Rooney

Disturbingly, America has become a nation severely divided along rigid political ideologies and intransigent polarization – rational or civil conversation with family, friends, and coworkers of the opposite political persuasion is becoming an impossibility. This climate of hostility and incivility has undermined our ability to solve the big issues facing our country today.

How have we reached the point where civil debate has become nearly impossible? How can we return to an ability to rationally discuss issues and find bipartisan solutions? There are three key reasons for our polarization, but fortunately each has a realistic solution.

First, to address the television and radio media bias, we must bring back the Fairness Doctrine. This doctrine, in place from 1949 through 1987, required licensed radio and television broadcasters to present fair and balanced coverage of controversial issues by devoting equal airtime to differing points of view. This is not a violation of free speech, as some critics suggest. Rather, it expands free speech to ensure that all perspectives are considered. As technology has advanced and the number of radio and television options has greatly expanded, many Americans no longer watch the news, they watch their news – confirming their own preconceived bias. Many of these news programs blur the lines between factual news and opinion-based reporting.

Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, which served us well for 48 years, would recreate a climate in which all sides of an issue are equally presented and heard, leading to greater intellectual debate and a reduction of the compartmentalized thinking that has brought such polarization and division.

Second, we must hold social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., accountable for what they publish, like the rest of media. Algorithms contained in these forms of media direct us to information that conforms with what we already support and
believe and subliminally steers our thought and behavior. We see more of what we already support and less of any differing
information. Adding to this is the volume of false information that social media propagates. Applying the same Fairness Doctrine to social media might help bring accuracy and truthfulness like it used to do for traditional print and broadcast media. Further, we, as individual Americans, should take personal responsibility for verifying facts and utilizing legitimate sourcing before sharing it.

Third, we must redistrict Congressional seats based upon geography, not party preference. This is critical to resurrecting
bipartisanship. Both Democrats and Republicans who control this process in their state governments have manipulated districts to serve their own partisan ends. The “gerrymandering” which creates more bluer blue districts and redder red districts than would naturally occur, leads to electing politicians that effectively only run in their primary, devaluing the general election, and moves them more “left” or “right” to survive a primary challenge – resulting in Representatives that see any compromise as a danger to their reelection, even if that lack of compromise leads to the inability to govern.

States can and should pass legislation that requires districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where
feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries, as a recent amendment to the Florida Constitution
included. I am sure that there are many other factors to consider if we want to reduce the division and polarization in our country today. Members of Congress used to have more opportunities to interact and socialize with each other outside of regular committee meetings and floor votes.

Since the mid-1970s, Congressional votes have gone from approximately 60%-65% along party lines to nearly 90% today. I personally think that term limits, to align Congressional service with the concepts our founders had in mind – service as a temporary activity and not a career, would help a lot.

This is why I introduced a 12 year term limit bill which, unlike the myriad of other term limit bills, does not require a constitutional amendment. It just stops pay after the 12 years. My bill has 8 cosponsors while the 9 constitutional amendment ones, which will never happen, have a total of 85. By working towards a comprehensive, culture-changing solution, we can possibly return bipartisanship to the Congress, resulting in more effective legislating to solve the important issues facing our nation.

Rep. Francis Rooney represents 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.

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