Excerpts from Bob Gates’ speech at the National Constitution Center on political gridlock:
. . . as a result of a highly partisan redistricting process, more and more seats in the House of Representatives are safe for either the Republican or Democratic Party. As a result, the really consequential campaigns are not the mostly lopsided general elections, but the party primaries, where candidates must cater to the most hard-core ideological elements of their base. . . .
[T]here are [also] vast changes in the composition and role of the news media over the past two decades. When I entered CIA 45 years ago last month, three television networks and a handful of newspapers dominated coverage and, to a considerable degree, filtered extreme or vitriolic points of view. Today, with hundreds of cable channels, blogs and other electronic media, every point of view, including the most extreme, has a ready vehicle for wide dissemination. You can’t reverse history or technology, and this system is clearly more democratic and open, but there is also no question that it has fueled the coarsening and, I believe, the dumbing down of the national political dialogue.
As a result of these and other polarizing factors, the moderate center—the foundation of our political system and our stability—is not holding. Just at a time when this country needs more continuity, more bipartisanship, and more compromise to deal with our most serious problems, all the trends are pointing in the opposite direction.
Indeed, “compromise” has become a dirty word—too often synonymous with a lack of principles or “selling out.” Yet, our entire system of government has depended upon compromise. The Constitution itself is a bundle of compromises. Critical ideas and progress in our history often have come from thinkers and ideologues on both the left and the right. But, for the most part, the laws and policies that ultimately implement the best of those ideas have come from the vital political center, and usually as the result of compromise.