A lack of statesmen

Partisanship has forced members of legislatures to resign in frustration.

Daily Editorial Board

Last Friday, Minnesota Sen. Claire Robling became the latest legislator to announce her retirement, citing her “fear that statesmen are vanishing as partisanship deepens” in the state Legislature.

Her retirement announcement follows that of Olympia Snowe from the U.S. Senate this year and that of Evan Bayh in 2010, among others. All have complained of increasing partisanship and institutional dysfunction. Much of this is because politicians mistakenly and increasingly believe they are working for the good of their party rather than for the good of the people.

Statesmen are shunned as traitors. Institutions like Grover Norquist’s no-taxes pledge and the Tea Party reinforce and police this ideological rigidity and make it impossible to compromise.

Politics has become more of a competition than a collaboration. There has always been a rivalry between the parties, but now each tries to occupy positions of power first — helping the country is incidental. Rather than parties adjusting their platforms if they find them unpopular, they stubbornly spurn democracy and either use institutional tricks like redistricting to tip the scales or dishonest misrepresentations in media and advertising to maintain power, inevitably making relations between the parties acrimonious.

Trust in government and legislative approval are so low that national and state legislators no longer need a sense of shame. Public disgust with their behavior is routine and expected, so there is no penalty for not acting in good faith, especially if the opponent is just as bad. Either politicians must voluntarily change their behavior, or citizens must join together and force politicians to work for the people first rather than for their party and their own re-election.d