Our government is not working because of hyper partisan gridlock. When Newt Gingrich became the Republican party whip he discovered that the two party system is a zero sum game, and that one side can gain by using name calling, slander and demonization of their opponents. His GOPAC passed out a pamphlet to all of the Republican candidates in 1990 called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control” teaching them to refer to any Republicans in glowing terms of freedom, hard work, and principles, while referring to their Democratic opponents in disreputable terms as self serving, unpatriotic, traitors. Before this, the two sides were civil to each other and would compromise to do what was best for the country. Over time the rhetoric and acrimony got worse so today compromise is a dirty word and any moderates willing to work with the Democrats have been purged from the Republican party.
Today members of Congress spend one third of their time making the opposition look bad and most of the rest of the time pleasing contributors with precious little time spent on what is best for the nation. Republicans spent the last eight years perfecting the art of obstructionism culminating in denying President Obama his Constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court Justice. Key to this obstructionism was the use of the filibuster which was used to block everything.
Democrats frustrated at the backlog of judges and other appointees, eliminated the use of the filibuster to block all nominations other than the Supreme Court. Now that the Republicans control all branches of government, some are eager to eliminate the use of the filibuster to block Supreme Court Nominees. George Will in his March 30th editorial about reforming the filibuster, said that “a significant minority should be able to extend debate in order to deepen deliberation.” He said that majoritarianism should be tempered by a reformed filibuster as a measure of opposition, but that it shouldn’t be used to block.
Republicans have become adept at “poison pill” amendments to must-pass legislation. For example there will probably be an amendment to block funding for Planned Parenthood in the continuing resolution to keep the government running. If Democrats object they will be accused of wanting to shut down the government. A better mechanism to give voice to the opposition, should allow and even encourage constructive compromise to do what is best for the country. The filibuster should be replaced with the Best of Three Options.
If there is strong opposition to a bill, three bills should be crafted, one from the Democrats, one from the Republicans and one that is centrist from independent sources. Then a preferential vote should be used to register first choices with two votes, second choices with one vote, and the least favored with no votes. The bill with the most votes would become law. This would eliminate “Poison Pills” and would encourage cooperation and compromise because each side would vie for the second place votes. Such a policy would restore civility to government and make it easier to create policy that best reflects the will of the people and what is best for the nation.
Only about 20% of the country associates with conservative Republicans and slightly more with liberal Democrats, but the remaining 60% are somewhere in the middle and are rarely represented, because centrists have become scarce. Although Republicans won the presidential election, they lost the popular vote, so that is hardly a mandate to govern from the far right. It should result in centrist policies that reflect the will of the majority. The two party system has resulted in moral dualism in which one side thinks they are always right and the other side is evil.
To make government work again and to restore civility to government it is critical to encourage cooperation and compromise, and then we realize that we are all Americans. It could start in the Senate as a substitute for the filibuster, but once the advantages are evident, it could spread to all voting. Instead of a single nominee that half the country thinks is terrible, why not let lawmakers choose the best of three nominees? Preferential voting or “instant runoff” voting would also allow voting for third party candidates to be viable without those becoming “spoiler votes’ that result in selecting the worst candidate.