C’mon America, we’re bigger than our partisan divide — what Olympia Snowe’s departure tells us

Tuesday’s retirement announcement by Olympia Snowe – who said that she was quitting because she was frustrated “that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions” – underscores just how divided and polarized we have become as a nation.

Our political system is driven by those on the extreme right and left wings, and the special interest money driving these interests. At the same time, redistricting has made it increasingly difficult for the dwindling number of moderates in Washington to remain.

As a divided country we now face large and looming problems that need to be addressed: balancing our budget, reducing the debt and deficit, reforming our entitlement programs.

Not surprisingly, Americans’ satisfaction with the size and power of the federal government is at an all-time low of 29%. Over two-thirds (69%) say they have little or no confidence in the legislative branch of government. And a majority (57%) has little or no confidence in the federal government to solve domestic problems.

Indeed, the only thing that unifies the American electorate is their disgust with government in Washington. ;

A record-high 81% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed, according to Gallup. An almost identical 82% disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, and over three-quarters (76%) of voters say that most members of Congress do not deserve to be reelected.

Voters are seeking consensus, conciliation and compromise in Washington, and there is currently no consensus within our government. A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that fully 85% of Americans want to see both Democrats and Republicans work together and compromise on some of their positions in order to get things done.

Given the widespread disaffection with the political parties, the increasing number of independents, and the widespread support for an alternative ticket to be on the presidential ballot, there is a clear opportunity for the Americans Elect ticket to succeed and win the election. Americans Elect bills itself as “a non-partisan non-profit whose only mission is to let the American people directly nominate their choice for president.” I serve on the group’s leadership committee.

Even if the Americans Elect ticket doesn’t win, the role the movement will play in forcing the parties to deal with our leadership, fiscal, and foreign-policy challenges cannot be overstated. ;

For those who support moderation and consensus-style politics, the Americans Elect ticket and process will encourage consensus, conciliation, and perhaps even victory.

At the end of a month in which we celebrated both Black history and honored the birth and leadership of Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, we need to be mindful of the fact that our unity as a country and our ability to solve problems and overcome adversity and adversaries is what makes us proud to be Americans, and is more important than Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative.

As we go forward in the presidential campaign and longer-term, as we work to get back on track and get our priorities straight as a country, we need to rise together and win first and foremost as Americans.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist and Fox News contributor. Schoen, who served as a pollster for President Bill Clinton, is author of several books including the forthcoming “Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What It Means for 2012 and Beyond” (Rowman and Littlefield). Follow him on Twitter @DouglasESchoen.

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