Louisianans say the don’t like partisanship, but is that really true?

A recent poll found that the people of Louisiana are frustrated with the direction they think the state is headed. They also think their wishes are neglected by their elected representatives and that those politicians are more beholden to their political parties than to the state’s best interests.

And who can blame us for thinking that? We have years of evidence.

Our statewide officials refuse to balance our books or to enact long-term reforms that will do things like stabilize budgets for schools and hospitals. They can’t even be trusted to head off a looming fiscal crisis of their own making that they’ve known for nearly two years was coming.

But why? Why would people who say they are in Baton Rouge to try to make things better consistently refuse to do so?

The answer might a bit complicated, but my money is on a rather simplified view: They won’t work together because the people who elected them don’t want them going across the political aisle to cooperate with the enemy.

It doesn’t really matter how many people want a balanced budget that looks like it was created to address the priorities it establishes.

What matters is how many people back at home will vote for you the next time you seek election. And if that’s what the real motivation is, it becomes difficult to do the right thing, much less to lead an effort to do the right thing.

Doing so would fly in the face of the partisanship that is embraced by nearly all of our public servants because that is what keeps them in office.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at just about any online discussion over anything that’s even remotely political.

If you’re in an open forum, you are likely to see comments that congregate at one political extreme or the other, with more moderate comments simply ignored.

Then, the two sides simply yell past each other, repeating talking points, well-worn clichés or outright lies to further their political cause while extinguishing any hope for communication or cooperation.

If you belong to any sort of political group online, the “discussions” there can be even more polarized.

People who don’t share the prevailing viewpoint are shouted down, blocked or marginalized by others who are threatened by an exchange of information, as though the mere presence of a dissenting opinion is a personal affront.

And among those who do share the prevailing belief system, the “dialogue” is more of an echo chamber than a forum.

We have become so thin-skinned that we cannot bear even to hear opinions that don’t fit our pre-conceived belief systems.

This is a problem that is worse than the discourtesy it fuels on social media. It goes to the heart of how we deal with one another.

We seem to think nothing of comparing people to Nazis or calling folks communists because we happen to disagree with them on an issue of taxes or regulation.

We say things to total strangers online that we would never utter in a personal conversation, and we excuse it by telling ourselves that the other political party – whichever one it is – isn’t just mistaken but wrong and evil.

It’s no surprise the Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C., have been gripped by partisan gridlock that prevents even the most sensible efforts from gaining widespread acceptance.

We decide these things based on the R or D that appears after people’s names rather than the merit of the bill or the nomination.

For far too long, the two parties have insisted that we all must fit neatly into one stack or the other. But that isn’t the way most people think in the real world. In the real world, we have dinner, go to church and work with all sorts of people with whom we differ to varying degrees on all sorts of political beliefs.

Somehow, we’re able to make those relationships work.

We don’t denounce our parents with partisan name-calling or refuse to shake hands with members of the other party.

Unfortunately, we seem to vote that way. As a result, of course, the people we elect feel like they have to act that way.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’ll offer one challenge that might be a step toward better communication, at least. The next time you see something online that defies one of your political beliefs, just let it go. Know that the other person has a slightly different outlook, and be happy that we’re not all the same.

That might sound optimistic or naïve, but I promise it will make you happier than engaging in pointless, partisan rancor. Just give it a try.

 

Editorial Page Editor Michael Gorman can be reached at 448-7612 or by e-mail at mike.gorman@dailycomet.com.