Hyper-partisanship is a disease that has afflicted American politics at key times in our history: the decade or so leading up to the presidential election of 1860 that saw the secession of the slaveholding Southern states, the years of the Great Depression that saw the introduction of many key elements of the social safety net still in place today and the 1960s as the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights roiled the nation's politics.
Unchecked, unaddressed, hyper-partisanship can tear a nation asunder as government can grind to a halt, unable to address the very issues and challenges that led to the system's freeze-up in the first place.
The level of partisan rancor in Washington had been on the rise ever since the onset of the Iraq War in 2003 and has only escalated. Congress and the president seem unable to work together, not to mention the dysfunction of Congress itself. Extremism seems to be the order of the day for the third arm of our government.
That, to a large degree, is why we endorse Democrat Mark Warner for re-election to the U.S. Senate on Nov. 4: He truly has a long track record of reaching across the political divide to try to work with everyone to do what's in the best interest of the people.
Devotion to the concept of "radical centrism" is a hallmark of Mark Warner's political career in Virginia. And going head to head with challengers Republican Ed Gillespie and Libertarian Ed Sarvis, that's what makes Warner the best choice. Unlike either challenger, he has actual experience in governing. He also knows compromise with one's opponents is key to governing. Ideologues want to accomplish all on their agendas while realists want to accomplish as much as is possible.
And as important as Warner's "radical centrism" and experience in actual governance are, his public demeanor over the course of two decades in public service is just as important to us. When he engages opponents, he argues, not belittles; he discusses, not shouts at; he tries to see the other side of an issue, not dismiss it out of hand.
In 1996, after almost a decade of working for as a volunteer for various Democratic candidates, he went up against popular U.S. Sen. John Warner, coming up short by only 5 percent, 52 percent to 47 percent. It was a friendly, issues-driven campaign, characterized by the younger Warner's slogan, "Mark, not John."
His strong showing boosted his profile and propelled him into the Governor's Mansion in 2001, where he developed a moderate, business-and jobs-friendly reputation. In 2004, Republicans in the House of Delegates were blocking passage of a state budget over the horrendously expensive "car tax" repeal, a program put into place by Warner's Republican predecessor; Wall Street bluntly said Virginia's AAA bond rating was in serious danger. Warner reached out to moderate Republicans, including Del. Preston Bryant of Lynchburg, to craft a solution to impasse, putting the state on sound financial footing for the next decade.
In 2008, Warner was elected to the U.S. Senate in a landslide, replacing the very man who had defeated him for his first bid for the Senate in 1996, retiring Republican John Warner. Over those intervening years, the two unrelated Warners had become close friends, and John endorsed Mark then as he has now, saying his moderate centrism allows him to occupy the middle groimd politically where real governing takes place.
Mark Warner's first term in the Senate has been far from quiet. Elected at the depth of the 2008 global financial meltdown and serving through the dangerous days of the Great Recession (or more appropriately the Second Great Depression), he has worked assiduously to develop a reputation for teaming up with Republicans to forge policies and legislation.
A member of both the Senate Budget and Finance committees, fiscal issues are among the most important to Warner, and it is there his centrism and desire to reach across the aisle have been most visible.
The nation's debt has skyrocketed since the launching of the Iraq War in 2003, paid for on the taxpayers' credit card, and through the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the financial system rescue package in 2008 and the economic stimulus in early 2009. Warner and others knew hard fiscal reforms needed to taken.
In late 2010, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as the Bowles-Simpson Commission after its Republican and Democratic co-chairmen, issued a report calling for hard reforms across the spectrum of government, from social programs dear to Democrats to modernization of the tax code to result in higher revenues more equitably generated and cuts in military spending anathema to Republicans.
Everyone's sacred cow would be gored in the process, but partisanship and stalemate kicked in. With the added impetus of raising the federal debt ceiling kicking in, Warner reached out to Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and four other Republican and Democratic senators to push for a comprehensive, long-term solution to the government's fiscal crisis. Entitlement reform, tax reform, structural reform of the government itself: Everything was on the table for the so-called Gang of Six.
Sadly, despite Warner's greatest efforts, positions on both the right and left hardened. The next two years saw the U.S. lose its AAA bond rating and the federal government shutdown for one basic reason: No one wanted to compromise for the good of the nation.
But compromise is how governing happens. Mark Warner knows that. He's not a partisan hack of the left or the right; he's a centrist trying to find a middle way forward for this country.
And that is why we need Mark Warner in the U.S. Senate.