Despite the talk of cooperation and compromise we have heard from politicians, the reality remains unchanged: partisan gridlock. Though the 110th Congress has passed a housing-rescue bill and an economic stimulus package, its achievements fall drastically short of what voters hoped for in 2006. Some polls peg congressional approval ratings as low as 16 percent, and with good cause squabbling and a lack of willingness to compromise derailed legislation on energy, the environment, childrens health insurance and immigration.
The bickering might lead one to think that only rigid hardliners succeed in our political system. But as Alexandrias own Mark Warner demonstrated in his speech at the Democratic National Convention this week, being a pragmatic moderate can carry a candidate to great success.
Democrats have traditionally had a hard time in Virginia. The conservative South often proves inhospitable to liberal ambitions. Warner overcame the challenge by engaging in dialogue and carefully-crafted compromise with both sides of the aisle.
Warner won the governorship in 2001 by shunning a traditional, party-line platform. Despite his earlier work as state party chairman, he charted his own path.
On the campaign trail, Warner emphasized standard Democratic fare, promoting education reform and expanding healthcare for children from low-income families. More important, however, was his support of issues seen traditionally as the province of Republicans.
Thanks to his success as a telecom venture capitalist, he pledged to run the state like a business and convinced voters he would shepherd Virginias then-troubled economy in an expert, fiscally-responsible direction. Warner also diverged from many other Democrats by actively courting gun owners and the NRA, which ultimately declined to endorse either Warner or his opponent, Mark Earley.
When he entered office, Warner encountered a budget shortfall in the billions. Through tapping the states rainy day fund and a series of painful spending cuts, he closed the budget shortfall.
However, the governor violated his campaign pledge and raised taxes, redistributing the tax burden and helping to stave off future shortfalls, protecting the states AAA bond rating and increasing funding for schools. As a result of his working cooperatively with the Republican-dominated legislature, when Warner left office, the state had replenished the contingency fund and enjoyed a considerable surplus.
The venerable Economist magazine termed him the new face of a state rapidly changing. Today, Warner leads his predecessor in the governors mansion, Republican Jim Gilmore, by nearly 20 points in the race to replace retiring Sen. John Warner (R). Mark Warners rise in the national spotlight was evident when he was selected to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. He owes much of his success to moderation, a hard-nosed pragmatism and the willingness to negotiate bipartisan compromise.
Yes, you spend some time on the social hot-button issues, but if you get the other 98 percent of the job right, which is what I think most folks hire you to do, Warner said in 2006, You can bridge partisan divides; you can actually focus on results, [and] you can actually get the kind of consensus that unfortunately is lacking in this country at this point.
It is an approach other politicians would be wise to emulate. If they spent more time on problems that Americans agree are important and less time fabricating new wedge issues, who knows how much they could accomplish?