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Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Politics aside

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As the keynote speaker, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman used a recent political event to talk politics.

Mr. Schneiderman took center stage at the St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee dinner held Friday. A headline in Saturday’s issue of the Watertown Daily Times, “AG: Shutdown will benefit Democrats,” summarized his presentation.

His main point was that local Democrats can make substantial gains in elective offices in the north country by emphasizing how inept Republicans are at governance. Democrats can use the government shutdown as a way to seize control throughout Northern New York, he said.

No one can fault Mr. Schneiderman for giving a pep talk to the troops shortly before the Nov. 5 general election. It’s the nature of political parties to expand their base of power through the electoral process, and getting out the vote for one side or another is the ultimate goal.

But if the partial closure of the federal government since Oct. 1 shows anything, it’s the triumph of political power-brokering over leadership. The very thing that Mr. Schneiderman is advocating, widening divisions rather than finding common ground, is what led to the breakdown of our system. And now that we have a crisis on our hands, the attorney general is promoting more of the same.

The American system of representative democracy requires factionalism to uphold the principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The idea is to prevent any one group from acquiring too much authority and suppressing the rights of minority groups and individuals.

Differing factions are compelled to compromise with each other to blunt the potentially tyrannical power held by those in the majority. Our government’s system of checks and balances may lead to less-than-ideal policies, but it gives those with opposing viewpoints a chance to be heard.

The dominance of two major political parties, however, has weakened the ability of factionalism to keep things in relative order. Politics in the United States has come to mean pursuing that which benefits either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, often at the expense of what will help the nation as a whole.

There is no doubt Mr. Schneiderman honestly believes his Democratic Party holds out the best promise for progress in the north country and throughout the United States. But like far too many of his fellow citizens, he falsely believes that whatever is good for his group is automatically beneficial for the entire nation.

He has mistaken political gain for national achievement, and the two are not necessarily the same. Exploiting the chaos in Washington to advance the Democratic Party shows a disturbing lack of priorities.

The political system works best when rival parties confront each other enough to bring about practical solutions. But now the objective of many elected officials is to gain power for their respective parties, which in turn help them get re-elected.

Ideology is good for shaping political objectives, but it’s not infallible. A one-party system may lead to repression, and a two-party system often results in gridlock. Given their inclination toward extremism, both notions should be soundly rejected.

The donkeys and elephants in Washington need another faction pushing them toward resolving their differences. And the tea party movement is not the answer as its members, many of whom are grossly misinformed about policy matters, have dragged the GOP to further extremes.

Ultimately, it matters little how many elected officials have a “D” or “R” after their names. What matters is how well they work with their colleagues to solve some of our numerous problems and get the country moving forward.

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