Reed was joined by Wilson School visiting professor and former Congressman Jim Marshall ’72, retired Democratic political consultant Mac McCorkle ’77, former mayor of Portland, Maine, James Cohen ’87, chief of staff to Rep. Ben Ray Lujan Angela Ramirez ’97, and frequent contributor to Fox News and deputy regional campaign manager for John McCain's presidential campaign David Tukey ’02.
Some of the panelists noted the impact of instant media coverage on political polarization in Washington.
“Over my time in Congress, we’ve started living in a 24-hour news cycle and the pressures have gotten harder,” Ramirez said. “A lot of the times they don’t want you to compromise.”
Though Ramirez said that bipartisan deals are rare, she explained that they sometimes do occur when people just happen to be on the same side of an issue.
Reed, who called bipartisanship “unique,” said that though people can often become partisan, sometimes the stimulus for action can overcome bipartisanship if there is a crisis or an immediate issue to address.
According to Marshall, political polarization is partially due to a need for congressmen to “protect [the] base,” and appeal to the more ideological and partisan constituents in their districts. Marshall explained that this motivates congressmen to avoid compromise to prevent being “primaried,” where they would lose in a primary election to a more partisan member of their own party.
Marshall also explained that he believes the current method of redistricting increases polarization and impedes bipartisanship in Congress.
“When you live in areas with people similar to yourself, they tend to vote similar to the people who are like you and that causes people who are polarized from the same places to become representatives,” Marshall explained.
Tukey added that today’s polarization is partially due to the individuals in Washington, noting the need for political representatives who come into office willing to working with others.
“I liked John McCain because a lot of the times he would say that he’s a conservative at heart but votes moderate because he thinks he’s wrong 50 percent of the time,” joked Tukey. “We need more people like that — not in the being wrong but in the willingness to try and seek out better ideas from the other side.”
The panel then opened to questions from the packed audience. One member of the audience asked if any of the panelists saw a lack of good ideas as a potential source for the resistance to compromise in contemporary politics.
Cohen responded by explaining that he did not believe that increasing the number of referenda, which allow the public to vote directly on public policy questions, would bring about better ideas.
“In my time in Portland, oftentimes an increase in [referenda] dramatically slowed down the political process,” Cohen said. “The time it took to educate individuals and their representatives ... ended up not being as effective as it could have been,” he explained.
The panel, entitled Partisanship and Compromise: Tigers in the Political Arena, was held in McCosh 46 and was moderated by politics professor Martin Gilens.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/06/01/31005/