ST. LOUIS - St. Louis native John Danforth has seen it all when it comes to politics. He has been the Attorney General of Missouri, a US Senator, and an ambassador to the United Nations; well-liked and respected by both parties.
Danforth was the quintessential political moderate who was able to bring diverse voices together and get things done in Washington D.C. But he says the divisive politics of today are pulling us apart, which is a dangerous situation for our country. He also says that one of the keys may be for everyone to spend a little less time following all the latest news coming out of the Capitol.
“When you say, ‘What’s wrong with American politics,’ look in the mirror,” says the former senator. “The problem is us.”
Danforth has been a staple of Missouri politics since 1968. He was elected as Missouri Attorney General at the age of 32 and went on to win six statewide races. But he’s not so sure he could even get through a Republican primary right now.
“The center of American politics is now just gone. It’s collapsed,” Danforth says. “But I think that’s where most of the people are. Most of the people are not on the fringes of politics.”
When asked for his thoughts on the rise of third party candidates, Danforth says his position is evolving.
“I’ve always resisted the idea of a third party because I think we’ve benefited from a two-party system. But that was when there was some overlap between the two parties. And that used to be the way.”
Danforth points out that one thing that is different today, and is possibly very important, is that many politicians don’t move their families to DC anymore for fear of being labeled an “insider.”
“We liked each other. Our spouses lived in Washington. So we knew each other’s families, we knew the children, and we were in each other’s homes,” Danforth says.
The former ambassador also makes the point that “it’s easier to get along when we get to know each other as human beings, not just as opponents. Now I think that’s gone.”
The other big problem, according to Danforth, is the “breaking news” on the 24-hour political cable channels.
“Nothing in Washington is really ‘breaking news,’” he says.
“The parties are being driven by the extreme voices of the parties,” he says. “And the job of the news is to cover the people with the most vivid positions”, which he says keeps everyone whipped up all day.
In this era of 24-hour political news, angry social media posts, and a divided electorate, Danforth says the key to America’s future is simple: just chill out!
“Don’t think that politics is everything. You know, it’s just politics,” he says.
That’s a surprising assessment from a man that has spent the last five decades in the political world.
“When politics is elevated into the ultimate value, then people take these solid, rigid positions where I am absolutely right and you are absolutely wrong; it can’t work that way. So I’d say ‘Relax.’”