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Another View -- Charlie Bass and Richard Swett: To keep our democracy, we must fix politics

June 24. 2018 10:46PM

In his Farewell Address at the end of his second term, President George Washington left the American people with a few key pieces of advice. Central among them was the need for national unity, to first identify as Americans with a common purpose before aligning ourselves with any particular group.

We as a nation have strayed from the path set out by President Washington — we have succumbed to actors “employed to weaken our convictions” that our form of government and love of country are what unite us. Partisanship and polarization are not just dangerously normal parts of our system. They’re central features enshrined by years of tit-for-tat action by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, stoked by outside moneyed interests that benefit from a culture of government dysfunction.

We are two former members of Congress from New Hampshire, one Republican and one Democrat. (One of us — Charles — actually defeated the other — Richard — to take his place!) We have seen this dysfunction firsthand and watched it grow so much worse since we left. And, despite our political differences, we know that it must end before it’s too late.

Many in Washington, D.C.’s political class have turned petty and vindictive. These attitudes are deeply destructive, both to communities in the Granite State and the country as a whole. As such, voters’ confidence in our system is all but eroded, and they are willing to entertain the idea of even the most divisive and demagogic of candidates so long as they promise to shake up the political status quo. This attitude existed before President Trump, and it looks to only be getting worse.

The vision Washington’s Farewell Address laid out for our nation — the reason why the United States was not ruled over by a king — needs to be returned to, today more than ever. When asked what system of government the Founders had come up with, a monarchy or a republic, another great American by the name of Benjamin Franklin is rumored to have replied, “A republic... if you can keep it.”

Our country has endured for well over 200 years. But the goal of “a more perfect Union” that was written into our guiding document, the U.S. Constitution, requires constant maintenance. We cannot be apathetic — there are no guarantees that it will last forever unless we work to ensure it does. We know that, as American democracy goes, so goes democracy around the world.

But there is good news. Within the current Congress, there are still leaders willing to put country before party. The Congressional Reformers Caucus, the first group on Capitol Hill to deal exclusively with common-sense political reforms, now has nearly 30 members, from Tea Partiers to progressives and all shades in between, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. They know that more unites us than divides us, and these members are not afraid to buck party leadership for policies that work for the good of our country.

Important bills like the Honest Ads Act, which would help protect our elections from more Russian interference, enjoy growing bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, even as party leadership refuses to bring them up for a vote.

Outside Congress, elected officials from across the spectrum are coming together for a campaign to Fix Politics Now. The campaign, led by Issue One Action, is taking bipartisan solutions to end the gridlock in our politics to communities around the country.

We are honored to help bring it to Manchester on Friday, along with former New Hampshire Reps. Bill Zeliff and Paul Hodes. We will be listening to members of the community and business leaders — key sounding boards when we were in Congress — about how our broken political system negatively impacts New Hampshire. Our state has a crucial role to play, and conversations about how Granite Staters can help will continue in the weeks and months ahead.

These may seem like intractable problems, and of course, coming together to fix them is easier said than done. But that was surely even truer when President Washington wrote his goodbye letter to the nation he loved. Washington had faith that a united country could overcome the greatest challenges facing the modern world. We must keep that faith.

Rep. Charlie Bass, R-Peterborough, and Amb. Richard Swett, D-Concord, each represented New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District.

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