Partisanship has become the scapegoat for everything that’s wrong with politics. The mainstream media loves to drive the story that moderates are being pushed out of the way while the two main political parties stake more ground at the extreme ends of the political spectrum.

In recent weeks I’ve heard claims that the blame lies with television talk shows that cover politics with a mix of news and entertainment. Others say Washington’s rancor is created by political fundraising’s need to tap into each party’s base. And, lately we’ve heard that even redistricting makes political compromise nearly impossible.

All of the above may be elements in the equation, but there’s a basic historical lesson behind any discussion of partisanship. For much of the past century there were plenty of liberals among Republicans; and, until the 1970s, Democrats were the conservative party in more than a few areas of ideology. In other words there was overlap in the dogma of the two major parties. But, all that’s changed.

Since the 1970s, and to a much greater degree in the past 3-1/2 years, the Democrat party has embraced a pure liberal agenda in every sphere. They’ve gone pro-abortion to the point of approving even late-term and sex-selection abortions. Their love for big-spending government programs has given our country its fourth straight year with a deficit of over a trillion dollars. Democrats have shifted their focus to issues like gun control, extreme environmentalism, a weakened national security that depends on other nations and organizations, and an energy policy that subsidizes failed approaches while driving up the cost of proven resources. This has been the direction of the Democrat party for the better part of four decades.

To counter-balance, Americans have increasingly elected into office and called up Republicans to take up for conservative positions – pro-life, limited government, second amendment rights, common-sense conservation, a strong defense, and conventional energy.

When I came to Congress in 2009 the last vestiges of “conservative” or moderate Democrats were the so-called Blue Dog Democrats. They were elected to Congress from relatively conservative districts, by claiming center-right positions, but at least during my tenure, they have served to merely enable the extreme liberal controlling members of the House and Senate. Blue Dogs rolled over and allowed Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to have their way with the passage of liberal legislation. While they talked conservative, they offered no obstacle to Obamacare, the Stimulus, Cash for Clunkers and Cap and Trade. During the Obamacare debate, Republicans reached out to the Blue Dogs for help to defeat the bill, but we were rejected. Americans saw what happened and the few Blue Dogs that remain are retiring or likely to lose their seats.

Recent polling shows that Americans remain center-right. Gallup found that 40% of Americans identify as conservative and only 21% as liberal. Yet, remarkably, the view they get of Washington is through the often-skewed lens of mainstream media and its bias against conservatism. The recent erroneous ABC News report that tried to link the tragic shooting in Colorado to a member of the Tea Party only served to reinforce the sense of many Americans that the media is out of step with their values.

The real scene in Washington is simply this: Democrats operate as if the Constitution is merely a suggestion, not the foundation for our government. They believe we can go on spending beyond our means without consequences, and are convinced that Americans, when left to their own design, will not make good decisions and are in need of a benevolent central government to direct them, even down to the very food they consume.

Republicans, on the other hand, believe the Constitution is the bedrock document of our government and should be respected as such, and only changed with the proper consent of the people. Republicans acknowledge that both Democrats and Republicans have been at fault in excessive spending and believe we must balance the budget through entitlement reforms and spending cuts, while maintaining a strong defense as well as a robust safety net for those who are truly in need of help—but not a nanny state for those who are comfortable living off the sweat of taxpayers. Republicans believe that government’s powers should be limited, as our Founding Fathers believed, and citizens should be left to make their own decisions in life.

What we’re left with is a choice. Democrats remain committed to a big government with unrestrained spending, a heavy hand in regulating the private sector and much more power to micromanage our lives. Republicans want a limited government with less spending and more consumer choices and greater individual liberty. A wide gulf exists between these two ideologies that cannot be simply merged through legislative finesse. Instead, Americans have before them two visions; two pathways to walk, and they will soon have to choose the best for our future. For me, that path must be the one of limited government, more individual liberty and consumer choices, as well as spending restraint that will lead to balanced budgets once again. This is the path I believe our Founding Fathers laid out, and it is the only path available to remain the greatest nation on earth, both in history and going forward.

Dr. John Fleming is a physician and small business owner and represents the 4th Congressional District of Louisiana. He is Chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.