By Representative Elton Gallegly
Three years before the Civil War, then-U.S. Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln observed: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
One hundred fifty-four years later, we are again a house divided against itself. And, as numerous commentators have noted, America has not been this divided since the Civil War. We are so divided that citizens from all 50 states have filed petitions with the White House seeking permission for their respective states to secede from the union.
As a people and as a government, we need to lessen this great divide or suffer the consequences.
Election Day highlighted the divide. A majority of men voted for Mitt Romney. Women favored President Obama. White Americans mostly sided with Romney. Minority Americans went for the president. Those earning $100,000 or more a year favored Romney. Those earning less than $100,000 primarily voted for President Obama. Young voters cast their ballots for the president. Seniors cast their ballots for Romney. Those without religious affiliations voted for the president. Regular worshippers chose Romney.
Together, they voted for a divided government, with the White House and Senate controlled by the Democrats and the House by Republicans.
There is nothing inherently wrong with a divided government. During my 26 years in Congress, I served in the minority twice and the majority twice. I was able to move bills through Congress and into law during both rounds in the minority because I reached across the aisle and worked with Democrats on interests that overlapped.
That doesn't happen too much anymore, and if one looks at the Howard Berman/Brad Sherman Democratic congressional race in the San Fernando Valley, it seems the voters prefer partisan gridlock to compromise.
I have served with Berman on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees for most of our mutual time in Congress. There is much that Berman and I disagree on politically, but Berman comes to his convictions honestly and intellectually. We have worked on many bills together, compromised where we could, and passed legislation that did not impose on our most deeply held convictions.
Sherman rarely compromises. He is very much a partisan. The San Fernando Valley voters chose Sherman. Partisanship will not solve the fiscal cliff the United States is teetering on.
Congress has always had a habit of waiting until a decision was forced upon it before it acted. In the Army, you hurry up and wait. In Congress, you wait and hurry up. Unfortunately, now it's wait and then punt. This is a lot of rhetoric and political posturing, but there is little movement beyond what was occurring a year ago.
The president said a year ago and says today, "We want to raise taxes." The speaker and the majority of Republicans said a year ago and say today, "We don't want to raise taxes; we want to create jobs." So we set up a fiscal Armageddon to force us to act -- unless Congress and the president decide to postpone Armageddon and kick it down the road.
Kicking it down the road does not solve the problem. Kicking it down the road will exasperate the problem, creating continued uncertainty for financial markets and entrepreneurs.
And, we, as voters, only have ourselves to blame. We must cross this divide. It starts with us.
In 1960, according to Stanford political scientist Shanto Iyengar, about 5 percent of American parents expressed concern if their child decided to marry someone of a different political party. By 2010, that concern was expressed by nearly 40 percent of parents. While I certainly believe that couples should share similar beliefs, the more important qualities are integrity, work ethic, being a loyal and supportive spouse and being a loving parent.
We are all Americans and we must begin to act like it. Compromise does not mean violating one's basic and fundamental principles and objectives. It is not a dirty word. It is, instead, the foundation of our Republic. For two centuries, politicians with competing convictions found a way to compromise and move America forward. The one time they did not, a civil war erupted.