Despite how it might appear, American politics right now are not as divided as they have ever been, but there is a strong resistance to compromise that is causing a gridlock in Washington, political strategist Paul Begala said in a speech Wednesday at The University of Toledo.In his talk peppered with jabs at his Republican counterparts, the former adviser to President Bill Clinton said politicians need to be open to other opinions and work together to move the country forward.
His visit to UT was part of the Jesup Scott Honors College Lecture Series.
Begala noted how intense political polarity led to the Civil War, and mentioned an instance in the past where a congressman bludgeoned another with a cane on the Senate floor over a difference of opinion.
“So we’re not the most polarized we’ve ever been, but we are the most paralyzed, at least in modern times,” he said.
Begala told a story about how even during Clinton’s impeachment process, he worked with Newt Gingrich and other Republicans to double funding for the National Institutes of Health. But now? Politicians don’t make the deals. Government has grinded to a halt and compromise has become a dirty word, he said.
“We are rewarding shutdowns and showdowns instead of compromise,” he said.
Part of the problem, he noted, is a diverse media pallet where people can choose to get their news from a source they agree with, rather than being challenged with a different perspective. Another concern is politicians pandering to their gerrymandered bases.
As the demographics of the country continue to change, politicians need to embrace the adapt-or-die model, and so far Democrats are adapting better than Republicans, Begala said. Embracing the rising American electorate — young people, Latinos and unmarried women — will lead to future successful elections.
But success in office to get things done will continue to require collaboration. Begala suggested nonpartisan investments in the sciences or infrastructure as good opportunities to start to come together. But, he said, it is up to the voters to demand that principled compromise.
The final lecture in the second annual series will be from Toledo Museum of Art Director Brian Kennedy, who will speak Tuesday, March 24, at 7 p.m. in Doermann Theater. Visit utoledo.edu/honorslecture for more information.