ABERDEEN, Md. — Uncertainty over the federal budget has become a familiar feeling in my young Army career. This year’s government shutdown was my second, the first occurring in 2013, with 2011 a narrow miss.
For those of us in the military, this has real effects on our everyday lives, with clinics, child care facilities and other vital services closing, not to mention a halt on our pay.
Why does this continue to happen? With a little analysis, it’s not hard to figure out. “Extreme conservatives,” “ultra liberals” and those who see “compromise” as “surrender” are to blame.
It seems so long ago that moderates were celebrated in our country. Bill Clinton rose to the presidency labeling himself a “centrist” in the early 1990s. A few years later, George Pataki, a self-described moderate Republican, won the governorship in New York state (a thought unthinkable today). Around the same time, a couple of self-described “conservative Democrats” were representing West Virginia in the Senate, and a self-described “liberal Republican” was representing the Senate in Vermont.
It is debatable when our hyper-partisan dilemma began. Some blame the Monica Lewinsky scandal, in which the White House intern’s relationship with Clinton led to his impeachment in the House. Some blame 24-hours news, which started with CNN in 1980 and expanded in 1996 when Fox and MSNBC joined in. Some blame the Internet, where anyone with an opinion — informed or uninformed — could command an audience.
Regardless of the cause, the effect on our political system has been devastating. Hyper-partisanship has turned our government into a never-ending drama of dysfunction and our elections into virtual knife fights with each side trying to make the deepest cut to appease the “base.”
The Republican Party has drifted from the party of lower taxes to lower intelligence on issues such as climate change, and the Democratic Party has drifted from the party of the working man to working on every social cause besides fixing the economy. Both parties seem to enjoy divisive social issues more than focusing on the fleeting job base for working-class men and women. Or they fixate on Hillary Clinton emails or Russian collusion more than fixing our broken immigration system.
When they discuss these issues, the Republicans go to Fox News, and the Democrats go to MSNBC — each largely speaking to an audience who already agrees with them. No real dialogue or tough questions occur, besides the occasional calculated soundbite when one of these outlets wants to act fair.
We will never fix our problems until we fix this dilemma, and it will take some courage from politicians, but also the American people. Let me be the first to say: It’s OK to be a moderate. It’s OK to be a Democrat who agrees with a statement President Donald Trump makes from time to time. (Are Democrats really opposed to spending more on infrastructure?) It’s OK for Republicans to be supportive of union rights, or maybe not toe the hard, pro-life line — and vice versa for Democrats who don’t want to take marching orders from pro-choice interest groups.
I think politicians would be pleasantly surprised at what they find if they start talking like centrists. Because in my experience, most Americans are slightly left or slightly right. Yet the fringes are often the loudest and sometimes most obnoxious.
So moderates, it’s time to speak up. If we are going to fix our political climate, which is quickly descending into all-out chaos, and in turn our country, we need to find common ground.
In short, we need to be more like our military. Each day I work in the Army with people I politically disagree with. But in the end, we put aside those differences to accomplish a mission. We are conservatives from Alabama and liberals from Minneapolis, yet we share something much more important: our love of country.
It’s time for Congress to do the same. Americans, too, must stop asking a politician to 100 percent agree with them, and the major political parties must stop drafting their platforms so far to the end of the spectrum that there is no room for dissent. Moderates need to take the lead. Moderates need to be proud to call themselves moderates.
“Moderate” is not a dirty word. It’s the word that just may save this country.