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Rick Galusha: Political extremism and hyperpartisanship are threats to our democracy

Rick Galusha: Political extremism and hyperpartisanship are threats to our democracy

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As a father of three, all currently in college, I must find hope where I can, including in this axiom, often misattributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re not a liberal at 20 you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative at 40, you have no brain.”

Rick Galusha (copy)

Rick Galusha

Like her father, my daughter is enamored by humanity’s limitless possibilities for goodness. And we are proud of Emma’s boundless optimism. For Christmas this year she received President Obama’s book “A Promised Land.” Now 11 months into COVID, books don’t lay around for long without being read.

Throughout, Obama acknowledges but does not address the schisms caused by the inherently conflicting perspectives of a chief executive and those in the legislature. While the American model of self-governance was designed to pit the branches against each other, one longs for the day when elected officials displayed a modicum of compromise, cooperation and mutual respect.

Despite serving in the Senate, Obama repeatedly misses that the interests of a senator or representative are very different from a president. When a president lays his hand to the inaugural pledge, an expiration clock starts. With only one shot at an extension, presidents begin with the end in sight, while national legislators repeatedly roll the stone of reelection up the hill, time and again.

Historically, some presidents used philosophical musings to inspire us with Technicolor views of what this glorious city on a hill could accomplish. Whether it was Jefferson’s ideal of equal rights, Kennedy’s Camelot and visions of lunar landings, or Reagan’s new day in America, a president can lift us up, commune with the larger “we” and nurture the national spirit.

You say you never compromise with the mystery tramp but now you realize, he’s not selling any alibis, as you stare into the vacuum of his eyes, and ask him, “Do you want to make a deal?”

Meanwhile, most legislators wallow in a philosophically monochromatic view of governing, engaged in a day-to-day grind of passing laws, securing pork and responding to constituents. Like a knife fight in a phone booth, legislators fight to live another day, struggling to stay on message, articulating complex policies and enduring the endless campaign.

You used to ride on a chrome horse with your diplomat. Ain’t it hard when you discover that, he really wasn’t where it’s at, after he took from you everything he could steal?

Today, party hyperpartisanship imposes ideological litmus tests on candidates.

History shows that democracies fail when political extremism abandons cooperation and compromise. During stressful times, democracies turn toward strongman leaders and right-wing authoritarianism. From ancient Rome to more modern Poland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Egypt, Hungary, Nicaragua and most recently Myanmar, the history of democratic countries is they can easily devolve into dictatorships.

Once upon a time, you dressed so fine. Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you? People call, say “Beware doll, you’re bound to fall.” You thought they were all a-kiddin’ you. Now you don’t talk so loud. Now you don’t seem so proud.

In a 2020 report, The Economist finds that nearly 70% of nations are experiencing a decline in democratic principles, including the United States, France and Portugal.

Aw, you never turned around to see the frowns, on the jugglers and the clowns when they all did tricks for you.

And, right or left, it’s about time the middle began pushing back.

America needs a healthy two-party system that is actively engaged in a spirited, but civil, exchange of ideas. We need philosopher queens and kings whose visions of America’s future lead us out of our allegorical cave to the Technicolor “we.”

In his book, “The Vanishing American Adult,” Sen. Ben Sasse reintroduces traditional values outside the constraints of modern party fealty, by sharing a vision of healthy American conservatism focused on the rule of law, constitutionalism, unlimited human potential, extending the American dream to more and reviling a false potentate.

Who could be against the revival of a healthy conservative voice that is less isolated, less fearful and more generous in sharing the dreams of Jefferson, Madison and King?

This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York Island. From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters, this land was made for you and me.

Rick Galusha teaches political science at Bellevue University. He’s hosted a blues radio show for 30 years and was the president of Homer’s Music Stores. Galusha was active in the creation of the Old Market Business Association and served as the group’s first president for two terms.

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