David Von Drehle: “What It’s Like to Live in One of the Last Bastions of Bipartisan America”

From a Washington Post column by David Von Drehle headlined “Here’s what it’s like to live in one of the last bastions of bipartisan America”:

I live in a place that supposedly no longer exists: bipartisan America. Over the past half-century, the powers that be have steadily redrawn congressional districts to make them more partisan, and therefore easier to win. At the expense of good government, Republican districts have been packed with more Republicans, while Democratic districts have been stuffed with more Democrats. Truly purple districts are a vanishing phenomenon. Let me tell you about mine.

The Kansas 3rd Congressional District covers the western side of metropolitan Kansas City. It’s purple not because everyone who lives here holds moderate views. It’s purple because we have a genuine diversity of views, arising from a wide diversity of life experiences. The district has wealthy enclaves and impoverished zones; working-class neighborhoods and McMansion suburbs; yoga studios, gun ranges and megachurches. A Democrat held the seat when I moved here in 2007….Later, a Republican had it for eight years. Now, we have a Democrat again.

New districts are being drawn, and I regret to report that the single-party trend continues. We seem destined to have even fewer competitive districts, and thus fewer elected officials speaking for the middle.

That’s too bad, because the mood in the United States would be lighter if there were more places like the Kansas 3rd. You might think a competitive district would be a place of constant political strife — but no. Living around people who think differently turns out to be a bit of a balm. Especially now, as the country marks a full year since the 2020 election. Elsewhere, the nation is tied in knots over 2020. Here, not so much.

For instance: Some of my best friends in the district are Republicans, but I don’t hear a lot of wild claims from them about election fraud. People in the Kansas 3rd know perfectly well what happened with President Donald Trump last year. He got to people like no one else in memory. He persuaded people to vote for him in record numbers — and fired up even more voters eager to be rid of him. Simple.

In solidly Republican districts, people say things like: How could Joe Biden win? I don’t know anyone who voted for him. Something’s fishy here! I don’t hear that sort of thing in my purple district. Just about every Republican knows people who voted for Biden, including a fair number of their fellow Republicans. Neither the turnout nor the result surprised many.

I also have a lot of swell friends who are Democrats, and they, too, are clear-eyed about what happened a year ago. Apart from ousting Trump, their party had a lousy election. They lost seats in Congress, barely squeaked out a 50-50 Senate and put a semiretired old plow horse in the White House.

In solidly Democratic districts, people say things like: Democrats control the entire government. We must pass a once-in-a-lifetime progressive agenda — or democracy is meaningless! I don’t hear that around here. Nearly every Democrat in the Kansas 3rd knows that people are leery of the Bernie Sanders left, including a number of their fellow Democrats.

Just look at our member of Congress. Rep. Sharice Davids is a lesbian woman of color — specifically, Native American. But you won’t find her in a team photo of “the Squad.” Instead, Davids was recently seen working with a Republican colleague on a zero-cost bill that might save lives. The proposed Kelsey Smith Act would require mobile phone providers to ping missing people and disclose their whereabouts in emergencies. It’s named for a young woman who was abducted, raped and murdered, and whose body was missing for days while her provider refused to hand over information that would have helped law enforcement locate her.

In single-party echo chambers, it feels as if all reasonable people agree — except for the alien Other Side, bent on subversion. It stands to reason that representative government ought to be government that agrees with Us.

By contrast, in the last remaining purple districts, people understand that a truly representative government is one that struggles to reflect the entire population. No party or faction wins all the time. No platform or agenda is entirely adopted. No one is shocked to lose an election. No one gets overconfident when they win.

Here, we scratch our heads over a Republican Party lost in a fever dream of election fraud that never happened, and cringe as Washington Democrats form a circular firing squad over a pie-in-the-sky agenda that they never had the votes to pass. We fear that a year from now we’ll reach another Election Day to find, again, little to like from either Team Red or Team Blue.

There’s a better way, if only Americans could embrace it. The color purple.

David Von Drehle writes a twice-weekly column for The Washington Post. He was previously an editor-at-large for Time Magazine, and is the author of four books, including “Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year” and “Triangle: The Fire That Changed America.”

Speak Your Mind