The following editorial appeared Monday in The Kansas City Star:
With Congress facing approval ratings in the single digits, one might expect some introspection, reflection, even calls for changes.
It's not going to happen this election cycle, and that's a huge challenge for our democracy.
Theories abound on the causes. Parties have their members captive. No one compromises. No senators or U.S. representatives actually live in Washington, unlike years ago, so there is no time to befriend members of the other party. Political redistricting protects incumbents and single-party-dominated districts.
Yes, we have instances of elected officials from opposing parties co-sponsoring legislation. And we have gestures at bipartisanship, including Sen. Claire McCaskill's push to force mixed party seating for committee members' staffs.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri and Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas made a bipartisan, bistate splash last year by jointly discussing hot issues at a Union Station forum, modeling thoughtful conversation needed across the nation. And Cleaver has brought his admired storytelling preaching to Congress in a positive way via a newsletter now enjoyed by many on both sides of the aisle.
But it has not been enough to stop the my-party-or-the-highway attitudes.
Today, it's former elected officials who seem most willing to offer the tough-love ideas for changes.
Take former Congressman Mickey Edwards, a Republican from Oklahoma City. He has several proposals worth larger consideration, outlined in his book The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.
Ideas with potential:
• Remove politicians from future congressional redistricting; give the border refiguring to nonpartisan panels.
• Agree that corporations and unions are not people and get them out of campaign finance shenanigans. Allow only individuals to contribute to campaigns and limit those donations.
• Expand the practice now adopted by four states that advances two top primary vote-getters to the general election, regardless of party. It would push more candidates to reach out beyond their bases to attract votes.
• Return civics curriculum to primary and secondary schools to prepare future voters.
In a speech before the Association of Opinion Journalists convention last month, Edwards recalled his own radical move of shifting to the Democratic microphone on the House floor, rather than sticking to the Republican side to make a pitch. This is radical? It looks like turf gang behavior not befitting the world's greatest democracy.
"The attempt to govern a diverse nation with a system based on a partisan war for control has grown steadily worse in recent decades," Edwards writes. "In the world of the 21st century, it has worsened to a degree that seriously threatens our system of self-government."
The answer lies with voters, he says. We, the people, must demand changes from our elected officials.
Polarization is the natural state of America. We are a nation of many ideas, often deeply divided on the right path.
But the idea that one party member can't cross over to speak directly to the other is embarrassingly sad.
The next Congress must show Americans they are the "grown-ups" worthy of high office, willing to compromise to move the nation forward.