Twelve years in Congress. Daily conversations with Republican members of Congress. Bipartisan trips abroad with time to talk at length. Work on legislation of mutual interest with members across the aisle that I respected and admired. But those dozen years left me alarmed and frustrated by the inability of Republicans and Democrats to comprehend each other well enough to work together on our country’s major challenges. We share the same titles and vote on the same legislation, but we see the world through dramatically different lenses.
It’s those lenses that interest me most. To be sure, multiple other factors feed polarization and congressional gridlock. Cable TV 24-7 news has broadened coverage, but the scramble for ratings favors short segments with guests representing both ends of the political spectrum, not the middle. These days, political campaigns never end; there is little breathing space for governing without looking toward the next election. Vast sums of money and highly organized groups create pressure on elected officials not to stray from the party line. House and Senate rules can be used for partisan purposes. Redistricting every decade creates chances for parties to draw lines that favor them for years. But in my experience, our greatest challenge is first to understand and then to bridge the gap between the dominant but incompatible worldviews of the two parties.