Wednesday, March 21, Maine’s retiring Republican Senator Olympia Snowe and New Mexico’s Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman were interviewed on PBS’s Newshour. They discussed the disappearance of Washington’s political center. It’s a great interview, and the senators agreed that Washington’s polarization reflects the state of our nation; we are polarized to the point that even our media is polarized. If you’re a Republican, you tend to watch certain news channels; if you’re a Democrat, you tend to choose other news channels. It is difficult to move beyond party positions, they agreed. Snowe offered some advice to her successor:
“And, certainly, the advice I would give…to anybody who serves in elective office at any level, and certainly in the United States Senate, which is an institution that was designed by our founding fathers to build those bridges, I would certainly recommend being open and listening and talking to people with whom you disagree, not to just the people with whom you agree, because at the end of the day, you can’t solve a problem if you’re not talking to people that disagree with you. And I say that to my own constituents. And I think the frustration that exists across this country is a legitimate one, from the standpoint whether it’s Occupy Wall Street or Tea Party, is that we have failed to address the key questions at this consequential moment in the life of America.”
I bring this up because the Teton County Democratic Convention happens April 14th, and as Snowe mentioned Occupy Wall Street it seemed a good time to share some excerpts from a speech Pete Muldoon, an Occupy Jackson Hole member, recently gave to the Teton Democratic Party. In his speech, Muldoon emphasizes his view of the “elite” and its “seizing of control of the political system.” I’m leaving out big chunks of Muldoon’s speech because of space, and because (since this is my blog!) I want to emphasize what I perceive to be of paramount importance. The parallel I care about is the belief that we need to reach across party lines. I’m now an Independent; I recently relinquished my Democratic affiliation. The presence of oppositional groups like Occupy can bring issues further into the light.
“I’d like to start off by saying I’m generally sympathetic to the historical concerns of the Democratic party, and I’d say that a good number of the people I’ve met in the Occupy movement are as well,” said Muldoon. “I voted for Obama in 2008. Many of us did. And yet we now find ourselves working outside the party, and we believe that on a national level, the Democratic party is as much a part of the problem as the Republican party is….There is no longer a political entity in this country which can be counted on to protect the rights and interests of the 99%, of people like you and me.
I have friends who are relatively well off, who have asked me in private if I think that they are among the elite whose actions we oppose. And of course they are not. It’s important to note that it is not wealth which the Occupy Movement opposes, it is using that wealth to seize control of the political system. We don’t oppose or resent success-we believe that the institutions and the society which generations of Americans have sacrificed so much to create and maintain have put all of us just a few feet from the finish line, and while it’s commendable to cross it, we must never forget our own responsibility to the society that has made that success feasible.
I believe that many of you are Democrats because you believe that all Americans should have rights and should have a voice, and that justice is something worth fighting for. The professed ideals of the Democratic party are consistent with this belief, and yet its actions no longer are….We need a strong Democratic party in this country. We need that party to live up to its ideals. We need it to fight for what it believes, even if that means losing an election, or losing some money….The Occupy movement is prepared to work with principled Democrats or, in fact, principled people from any party who share our vision of a more just society and are willing to work for it. We believe that there is much common ground with grass-roots Democrats on issues like war, health care, Wall Street reform, campaign reform, government transparency, education and so on.”