I’ve been called a RINO (Republican in Name Only), a Liberal, a Conservative, a Libertarian and a Moderate, along with a few less choice iterations of those monikers. It’s not indicative of some sort of political evolution I’ve undergone. Nope. I’ve been labeled some or all of those political ideologies and buzz phrases sometimes in the same month. Hell, now that the next presidential election is heating up, I’ve probably been tagged two or three different ways in the same week.

So, I’m clearly difficult to peg. Or, maybe I’m maddeningly conflicted and contradictory.

It’s more like I’m stuck in the middle.  Maddeningly, frustratingly, trapped in between the roaring right and the raging left. “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right…

I’m the political referee to other people’s heated Facebook arguments on Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.  It’s not always a fun job – in fact, it’s quite thankless and may only be serving to keep me sane – but someone’s got to do it.

See, that’s the thing. There’s so much outrage and extreme polarization in our country today we’ve grown quite comfortable shouting down, mocking, dismissing and discounting each other’s politics and favored politicians.

And, the time when we’re not engaged in destruction, we’re writing about it. Whether it’s students of rhetoric and political discourse or the mainstream media, there’s no shortage of analysis and dissection of the Red state, Blue state and Proud Purple phenomenon.

It’s no secret that I’m terrified over the thought of a Trump presidency as much as I worry about a Bernie Sanders one. And I’m smart enough to realize that a new/old Clinton-Bush cage match next November probably isn’t what will rattle cages and reinvent Washington to something closer to what the Founding Fathers envisioned.

I wouldn’t mind one party running the White House, and one party in control of Congress. Oh but, silly girl, that’s gridlock.

It doesn’t have to be. If chivalry isn’t dead (it’s not, right?), then compromise shouldn’t be either. The fact is the answer to most pressing issues facing our nation – be it the economy, debt, taxes, jobs, the environment, trade or national security – isn’t black or white, option 1 or option 2, red or blue, yes or no, on or off.

It’s that gray area of compromise that’s hard and unpopular. And not necessarily a lot of fun. It’s going to mean you don’t always win. You won’t get your way every time. Taxes might have to be raised, but some programs may also be cut. Business isn’t always the enemy, and government isn’t always the answer. And so on.

That’s what public service is about. That’s leadership. That’s cajones. That’s a ticket I could get behind. Wait, who’s marching to that tune?

I’m not alone, am I? I refuse to believe I’m alone in this. Sure, we can all ride along on the bullet train to the bottom that the political extremes now have us on. That would be the easy way, wouldn’t it?

Maybe it’s time to “Be the change.”

And no, I don’t mean hit up Etsy for a catchy slogan embossed on a bumper sticker or koozie. I said it might be uncomfortable, even unpopular to compromise or to thoughtfully consider that there’s no single path or one political party that can solve what ails us as a nation.

We each need to actively commit to the hard and deeply personal work of being a little more open-minded and thoughtful in our own dialogue and discourse. Don’t rush to judge simply because it’s coming from the mouth of your opposition.  Don’t discredit legislation or policy because it doesn’t fit in your personal comfort zone.

I may not agree with your politics or policies, but how can we ever break the cycle of a polarized electorate and government gridlock unless we all (candidates included) take a breath, actively listen, and try to find common ground between us? Now, that really would make America great again.

Photo via Flickr/rubio2d