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The under-recognized source of the furious hyper-partisanship playing out in the House Impeachment debate

12 / 18 / 2019

Why do they all sound so angry? Why does the impeachment debate on the House floor seem like a clash of two entirely different species?

For quite a long time now, I have been making a public case that the disastrous performance and unpopularity of the US Congress cannot simply be blamed on the individuals we send there.

We’ve been electing people for 230 years — so it ain’t just that.

What I’ve argued, in a book, in articles, on radio and TV and in university classrooms is that it is the system. It is the rules.

Now that may sound boring — “the rules.” It’s so much easier to blame one party or the specific party leader in Congress you dislike the most. It’s very easy. But the easy way is often not the right way.

One of the two main defects I outlined in Unlock Congress that mars our elections is the party primary system. This plays a huge role in the increased hyperpartisanship that you see playing out in real-time on Capitol Hill.

The party primary was a good idea in the early 1800s, as it replaced the shady process of nominees getting slated by insiders in smoky (literally) backrooms.

But what the primaries have turned into is a steel cage match between members of the same party who are trying to get as far to the extremes of their party’s ideology as they can. In the overwhelming majority of (gerrymandered) congressional districts, the bases of each party choose the nominee.

Former Congressman Mark Sandford (R-SC), is a “former” congressman because he spoke out forcefully against President Trump — and then lost his primary. This is what is known as a cautionary tale.

Independents? They don’t have a chance — even if they’re the most popular choice among three candidates in a general election! In states with “sore loser laws” — they are prohibited from running as an Independent if they’ve lost in a party primary.

In a system like this, the extremes grow stronger. Moderation and compromise suffer. The country grows angrier. Turn on your TV.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a movement afoot to change all of this — and it’s coalescing even as I type.

Earlier this year, I helped some talented and dedicated folks to launch The Fulcrum — a new nonpartisan publication that’s devoted to informing Americans about these diseases in our government and prescriptions to cure them. It’s a great place to learn more about this and see if and how you’d like to get involved.

When people ask me to sign a copy of Unlock Congress, I always feel a little silly. Just the same, I always make sure to print four words above my barely legible signature: WE are the KEY.

It has always been thus, and once again, it is on us.