Monday, September 22, 2014

Must Kansas be destined for neverending partisan war?

7/18/2014

It’s not every day we find hope by looking at turmoil in the Middle East.

Always-high tensions rose late this week as Israeli forces began an assault deep into Hamas-controlled Gaza to destroy what they said were rocket launching sites and tunnels used by pro-Palestinian militants. The Israeli effort followed a 10-day campaign of more than 2,000 airstrikes that failed to stop deadly Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians and other sites.

It’s not every day we find hope by looking at turmoil in the Middle East.

Always-high tensions rose late this week as Israeli forces began an assault deep into Hamas-controlled Gaza to destroy what they said were rocket launching sites and tunnels used by pro-Palestinian militants. The Israeli effort followed a 10-day campaign of more than 2,000 airstrikes that failed to stop deadly Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians and other sites.

Hundreds already have been killed on both sides this week, with the Israelis and Hamas each claiming their violent campaigns are the means to a justified end.

“We chose to begin this operation after the other options were exhausted and with the understanding that without the operation the price we will pay can be very high,” Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, said.

It’s the latest in a decades-long saga of bloodshed and bitter feuding — a neverending story with no winners, but plenty of losers.

So how do we find optimism in this mess?

By comparison.

Looking at the maddeningly cyclical Israeli-Palestinian fight — dubbed the world’s “most intractable conflict” by numerous scholars — helps put the divisive state of partisan politics developing in Kansas into context. It serves as a warning. It shows what happens when there’s no room for compromise.

By comparison, the political divide in Kansas is child’s play. We’re fighting over tax policy, health insurance and fuel and energy standards. This is a pampered world far removed from the crumbling shanties falling down around mothers and children as rockets rain from overhead.

Yet we act like even Kansas primary elections — these days often pitting moderate Republicans against conservative Republicans — are somehow destroy-or-be-destroyed affairs. Powerful forces on the fringe of the electorate work to cleanse the party — and ultimately the state itself — of those whose views don’t align perfectly with a particular party platform.

What has happened to us? And why are we heading down this path?

A ray of light appeared this week in the form of a group of more than 100 prominent Republicans who are backing House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, in his bid to unseat increasingly unpopular, but politically entrenched Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. The group’s members — calling themselves “Republicans for Kansas Values” — are bravely putting their names on the line to voice opposition to what they see as a brutal, unflinching political machine taking over Kansas politics.

While we’re not ready to endorse Davis’ campaign, it’s good to see individuals crossing the political aisle to stand up for their beliefs. Ours is not supposed to be a state where neighbors nor politicians should be viewed with suspicion because they’ve been seen — gasp! — speaking cordially with a member of another party or — worse yet — crafting bipartisan legislation that helps Kansans of all ideologies.

The Republicans for Kansas Values effort has been met with predictable backlash from the Kansas GOP. The party faithful already are calling for the heads of two of the group’s most well-known members — Sandy Praeger and Wint Winter.

Praeger, outgoing Kansas insurance commissioner, was mocked Friday in an official release from the Kansas Republican Party, which accused her of being an “Obamacare cheerleader” who chose not to run for re-election because of her unsuccessful efforts to implement the Affordable Care Act in Kansas. In truth, of course, Praeger, one of the only Republicans in office to stand up to Brownback, merely sought a pragmatic solution to Obamacare mandates. Just because she tried to make lemonade out of lemons doesn’t mean she invented the lemon. As for Winter, a former Ottawa resident and former Republican state senator, the Kansas GOP now has labeled him a “longtime Democrat operative” and “a regular organizer of Democrat candidates for governor and a campaign hack for Democrats seeking federal office.”

It’s a classic move to disparage the credibility of opponents rather than discussing the actual argument at hand — a tactic regularly employed by President Obama and Democrats on the national stage. So what is the Kansas GOP’s response to the substance of the Republicans for Kansas Values group’s argument — right or wrong — that Brownback is leading the state down the wrong path? Silence.

When the conversation ends, we become robots in a neverending, generations-long blood feud, fighting because it’s all we’ve ever done, failing to recognize compromise even when it’s staring us right in the face.

We don’t know the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We don’t know if an answer even exists. In Kansas, however, solving our problems begins with talking, not shouting; with realizing we lose more than we gain when we savage our neighbors.

Hope is out there. But only if we put Kansas over politics.

Tommy Felts,

managing editor

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