Former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp said Tuesday members of the nation’s two political parties need to begin “serving the nation, and not the parties.”
Wamp was the guest speaker for the weekly luncheon of the Rotary Club of Cleveland.
He recalled hiring one of the staffers from then-Democratic U.S. Sen. Harlan Matthews when he entered the U.S. Congress in 1994.
“Back then I didn’t even blink at the thought of pulling a Democratic staffer into the new Republican office of a freshman class of 1994,” Wamp said. “She worked for me the whole time, then went straight over to Sen. (Bob) Corker’s office.”
The former congressman said it was “hard to believe the Clinton/Gingrich years are the good old days.”
“That is the last time anything big was done in a truly bipartisan way,” Wamp said. “As a matter of fact, when these wholesale ‘one part or the other’ decisions get made, they don’t last. They are going to unravel. What goes around comes around.”
He said Osama Bin Laden “got some of what he was after.”
“He didn’t bring us to our knees. He shook our foundations and we came back strong,” Wamp said. “But soon thereafter, with flawed intelligence going into Iraq, the blame game began and the excessive partisanship became the regular order.”
He said the “culprits” ranged from former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay on the GOP side and former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid on the Democratic side.
“It is now broken down now, sadly, into dysfunction, and the American people are almost over it,” Wamp said. “They are giving up in many ways.”
Wamp said he is now the co-chairman of “Issue One,” a bipartisan group including 182 former members of Congress making an effort to positively influence the political atmosphere, and “make some changes.”
“The group is almost equally divided between the two parties. Nothing close to that has ever been put together,” he said.
Wamp said the group is working to incrementally change 17 items “to improve the confidence rating the American people have in the U.S. Congress.”
He said 44 percent of respondents to a recent survey list the influence of big money in the political process as a major concern.
“That is ahead now of health care, education, taxes and spending, and immigration,” Wamp said. “The American people are disgusted.”
Wamp said he observed the 2016 presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), with whom he served in the U.S. House.
“He was considered a goofy candidate with a goofy message, and tens of millions of people gave him money from their pockets — small-dollar contributions,” he said. “And I thought people will still do that if they believe someone, even if they are that wrong, in my opinion.”
Wamp then referred to the campaign of Donald Trump, whose campaign message of “Drain the Swamp” resonated with voters.
“Those two things caused me to think something is changing and the ground is shifting,” he said. “To be honest with you, I think that the two-party system is in decline.”
“I think the trust factor in the old way and the establishment is eroding,” Wamp said. “I think there is going to be, no matter what we do, some kind of bloodless political revolution in this country.”
Wamp said he hope that comes from the next generation.
“I am even hopeful that the next generation will not put their party ahead of their county,” he said. “I am even hopeful that someday they can run as independents so they are not influenced by the special interests or the money, and they are not told by their leadership they have to raise so much money in order to advance.”
“I think it’s going to happen because the American people are really, really, really fed up,” Wamp said. “They are so fed up, last year’s election was upside down, on it’s head and many people chose not who they wanted, but who they thought might do something different.”
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