When The Herald-News approached me about writing a column a couple years ago, the idea was that I’d write about politics.
Despite the wealth of material to choose from – the 2016 presidential campaign was in full swing and the Illinois budget impasse was entering year two – I quickly realized I wasn’t qualified to opine on the topic. I simply didn’t know that much about politics.
So instead I focused on a theme I was well-versed in: stupidity.
Stupidity I’ve generated. Stupidity I’ve observed. Stupidity in everyday life.
Inevitably, though, it’s a theme that’s brought me back to politics. Because nowhere is stupidity more apparent than in the hyperpartisanship that has brought our country to a virtual standstill.
Republicans have taken a hard shift to the right. Democrats have taken a hard shift to the left. The two parties no longer find common ground on any issue.
It wasn’t always like this. During the Reagan administration, Congress was just as deeply divided. President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill hated each other’s guts. Yet the House and Senate still managed to pass legislation.
The 1981-82 Congress enacted 529 laws; the 1983-84 Congress, 677. They might not all have been good laws, but we’re talking about quantity here, not quality.
Compare that to the current Congress, which ends Jan. 3. It’s managed all of 270 laws so far, and is unlikely to exceed even the meager milestone of 329 laws passed by its 2015-17 predecessors.
That’s about a 50 percent decrease in legislation in just 35 years.
So what happened? It’s pretty simple: the two parties no longer have anything to do with one another. Republicans only push right, Democrats only push left.
Now in football, offensive movement to the right or left can be useful in penetrating the opponent’s defense.
John T. Reed’s “Dictionary of American Football Terms” refers to the tactic as east-west movement: the ball carrier runs parallel to the yard lines or toward the sideline.
Unfortunately, east-west movement alone doesn’t get the job done.
“East-west running by ball carriers is generally considered to be cowardly and/or poor judgment in that such a direction rarely results in gaining yards and often results in a loss of yards from the point at which the ball carrier began to run toward the sideline,” according to Reed.
In other words, the ball carrier can only gain yardage by moving forward. Moving laterally back and forth achieves nothing unless the player crosses the line.
But one player can’t do it alone. Football is a team sport and victory requires a team effort.
The late Sen. John McCain understood teamwork.
A staunch Republican, McCain still was willing to cross the aisle to get the job done, a strategy that often drew criticism from his own party.
“We’re at a place in our political history when passing legislation through the House with bipartisan support is considered by some folks a greater evil than the problem it’s intended to solve,” McCain lamented in 2017, noting that Congress’s “arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all.”
“The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and defend her from her adversaries,” he concluded.
Divisiveness is not limited to Washington. It has spread throughout our country. Witness last week’s violent street clashes between the Proud Boys and antifa, extremist groups that condone violence to get their point across.
And if ads for the Nov. 6 election are any indication, the polarization is only going to get worse.
It’s naïve to think Republican red will solve our current mess. Nor will Democratic blue.
No, the only color that can carry our country forward is purple, where red and blue work together.
Of course, I could be wrong.
I’m stupid like that.
• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for more than 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.