I may be biased, because this speaker in this video is my uncle, former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma Mickey Edwards, but I really enjoyed this talk based on his book, The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.
What I enjoyed most about the presentation are his authentic, conversational style and his storytelling. He makes the majority of his points through stories and examples (I like how he refers to Congress as two NFL teams or two private clubs). He allows you to come to your own conclusions based on the persuasive examples he uses which, by the way, are bipartisan and include plenty of self-deprecating humor about how full of himself he was as a politician.
Whatever your political leanings, I hope you'll take the hour and watch this presentation. Some of the best conversation is in the Q&A, although I seem to be missing the discussion about bipartisan political change organizations like No Labels (of which Mickey is a co-founder) -- they might have trimmed the video to make it fit into an hour.
I've transcribed a couple of his shorter stories below, in case you don't have time to watch the whole video.
Summary: Former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma Mickey Edwards argues that American government has become dysfunctional because we've created a political system that rewards intransigence and incivility and punishes cooperation and compromise. We've allowed political parties to manipulate our elections and even our governing systems for their own partisan advantage. He says to fix the problem and get government working again, we have to change the political system itself.
Here's the link to the original page, in case you can't see the video here.
"Is there something that the first four presidents agreed on? Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison agreed on one thing that I've been able to find. One thing.
They didn't even really like each other that much. They disagreed about tariffs, or they disagreed about how much westward expansion and how soon, or whether they were pro-British or pro-French. What was the one thing that all four of our first four presidents agreed on? That they talked about, they gave speeches about, they wrote about?
Do not create political parties. They said it over and over. Do not create political parties.
And what they meant was the kind of political party we have today. Where it's not just getting together on two or three things, but where every day, on every issue, it's your team against the other team on everything."
"One day I'm a Republican candidate running on the Republican ticket, and I get elected. I step across - I thought - a magic line, and now I'm not a Republican candidate, I'm a member of Congress, with all the obligations that entails.
I took an oath of office - I swore to uphold and defend the Constitution which, by the way, is the only pledge anybody should ever take. To uphold and defend the Constitution...
And we were there together, Republican and Democrat standing side by side. The people who were in that freshman class with me and became my friends - Al Gore and Dan Quayle and Dick Gephart, we were all there together. And that was 'Kum ba yah' - and that lasted 30 seconds.
Because immediately after that, we voted on who would be speaker, and all the Democrats voted one way and all the Republicans voted the other way. And then we decided how many people would be on each committee, how many Republicans and how many Democrats; the Democrats voted one way and the Republicans the next way.
It was that way every single day of the 16 years I served in Congress. Every day.
It's like you're permanently divided into two camps. Not Americans, but Republicans and Democrats.
So let me give you an example. I have a chapter called 'Rearranging the Furniture.'
There's something about this room, right? Even though I can't go and do this (I wouldn't know how to stand at a lectern) but here you are, and there's A lectern. And if you have a speaker here (except for me), they stand at the lectern. And wherever you are, whatever meeting you go to, your civic club or any other club you go to, there's a place for the speaker, there's a lectern.
Not in the US House of Representatives. There are two lecterns! There's a Republican lectern and a Democrat lectern.
If you're a Democrat, you stand at the lectern facing the Democrats. And if you're a Republican you face over here at a lectern facing the Republicans.
And I am so full of myself, and I'm so, 'God I just know I can persuade anybody of anything,' and so I... my very first speech on the House floor, I said, 'I think most of the Republicans are going to agree with me; I'm going to get the Democrats.'
And I stood at the Democrat lectern and I talked to the Democrats. And there was this gasp.
And people, both Republicans and Democrats, came up, 'No no, you can't do that. You have to stand over here.' Like I'm going to get cooties if I touch the wrong lectern."
"You can't have coffee or eat a sandwich on the House floor. You can't talk loudly about football on the House floor. You can't make phone calls on the House floor. It's unseemly. So what do you do? You go to the cloakroom.
But there's not a cloakroom. There's a Republican cloakroom, way over here, and there's a Democrat cloakroom way over here, and the people who are our members of Congress don't even have soup together. And because they're in Washington working three days a week, they don't even know each other."