At a moment of great turmoil in American history, Abraham Lincoln offered sound advice.
It was in a speech in Peoria, Illinois, several years before his presidency and the Civil War; a time of deep political division, with new and uncertain coalitions forming.
"Stand with anybody that stands right," Lincoln advised. "Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong."
It's still good advice today, but for many engaged in the rough and tumble of public policy, it's advice that falls on deaf ears.
The American people are exhausted from watching Washington grind to a halt because lawmakers from both parties are more focused on their own re-elections or scoring political points than on enacting policies that help people improve their lives. It's why party identification is so low: in 2017, 29% of Americans identified as Democrats and just 27% as Republicans.
If lawmakers merely run out the clock on another legislative session rather than doing the jobs they were elected to do, then, come November, many Americans will justifiably ask whether their senators and representatives deserve another term. It's a question that organizations within the Seminar Network are asking right now.
We are prepared to support candidates who champion public policies that benefit the American people. But we're finding that these champions are few and far between and our support will not be forthcoming for those who hang back or obstruct good policy.
Congress, whether under Democratic or Republican control, no longer appears capable of reining in out-of-control spending, ending corporate welfare, or reforming our health care system to provide access to quality and affordable care for everyone.
The recent bipartisan budget deal that raised spending caps by $300 billion over just two years and opened the door to last month's bloated $1.3 trillion spending bill is a case in point. In a stunning show of hypocrisy, just a few weeks after voting for this budget-buster, some members of the House voted for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, which stood no chance of being approved by their chamber.
The time for lawmakers to demonstrate their commitment to fiscal prudence is when they are casting votes to spend the American peoples' money. Yet, courage in Congress is so lacking that even on issues with strong majority support, lawmakers remain stuck.
The same holds true when it comes to finding a solution for the Dreamers, immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and now face an uncertain future. More than 90% of Americans say it's important to find a resolution to the issue. And, in practice, striking a deal to provide certainty for Dreamers and enhance border security should be easy. But lawmakers from both parties seem to be more interested in treating Dreamers as a political bargaining chip than human beings with the potential to contribute to our country.
In the process, they not only keep millions of people trapped in legal purgatory, but also turn their backs on one of our country's greatest traditions: welcoming people who wish to better themselves and our country, no matter their background.
Solutions to the United States' failing approach to criminal justice, too, need to be found. Our prisons are bursting at the seams while we spend over $80 billion a year to keep more than 2 million people locked up -- a staggering waste of human potential. For many, their most serious offense is a low-level, nonviolent drug charge. They are often victims of mandatory minimum sentencing requirements that have been called harsh and unjust by some of the very judges who are forced to impose them.
Once released, the formerly incarcerated face poor job prospects and more than three out of four of them end up back in prison within five years. This is destroying vulnerable communities nationwide. People on both sides of the political divide have come together in states across the country to address this problem. Congress, meanwhile, has done little for its part.
Even when Congress agrees that action is required, members tend to focus on petty differences rather than getting the job done. The House and Senate have each passed their own version of legislation that would allow the terminally ill the "right to try" potentially lifesaving experimental treatment and medication. The concept enjoys broad bipartisan support; 39 states have right-to-try laws. But the two chambers can't seem to find common ground and get a bill to the President. Meanwhile, lives are literally at stake.
In the past, the Seminar Network's organizations often limited their engagement to working within the confines of the agenda set by those running Congress. We were even willing to pull punches in fights that seemed unwinnable because they centered on issues congressional leaders did not consider immediate priorities -- like safeguarding our financial future.
Those days are over. The American people are demanding leadership. They have rejected the petty divisiveness that prevents Washington from getting important work done.
In the coming weeks, we will be stepping up our efforts to push congressional action on a whole host of initiatives, including Dreamers, criminal justice reform, right-to-try, and responsible government spending, to start. We will also fight to defend trade, arguably the most effective anti-poverty program in human history. As we engage on each of these issues, we will be looking for allies wherever we can find them -- on the left, the right, or in the middle. We welcome all comers. And we will hold those accountable who stand in the way of progress, regardless of their party.
Like Lincoln, we will stand with anybody who shares this vision and wants to do right - even if it's just on a single issue. Our fervent hope is that even isolated agreements won't just advance good policy but will also help tear down the walls of mistrust and bitterness that have degraded our politics and turned Americans against one another.
Our politics is broken; we stand ready to do our part to fix it.