Friday, October 18, 2013

Why can't we be friends?

Yesterday, President Obama told it like it is and called on the GOP to change tactics.

The question now facing our country is whether or not Democrats and Republicans can come together before the new budget and debt ceiling deadlines hit and whether or not they can come together on the pressing issues of comprehensive immigration reform and passing a farm bill. The possibility of this happening depends on eliminating, or at least reducing, the barriers to such compromise, so what are these barriers?

Here are the seven most significant obstacles I see, the first four of which President Obama brought up in his speech (video above, transcript here):

1) "Pressure from the extremes": On both sides of the aisle, moderate voices can sometimes be out-shouted by those from the ideological extremes. We need to remind our leaders, with advocacy and votes, that the majority of Americans don't want extreme, intransigent political leaders. Legislators need to feel confident they won't lose their seats just because they were willing to work with someone on the other side.

2) Hyperbolic rhetoric: The Affordable Care Act has elicited some especially absurd examples of this problem. Not only does caustic, inflated rhetoric make it more difficult to move to a position of compromise, it also weakens the validity of all of one's positions: it can't be the case that everything is Hitler's worst-ever socialist apocalypse. Both sides need to put the truth above the chance for an exaggerated sound-bite.

3) Focusing on differences: Instead of focusing on disagreements, our elected officials need to focus on points of agreement. There are many, and focusing on these points will allow a lot of governing to get done and will afford each side a stronger positionone of mutual respectfrom which to forge an acceptable compromise in the more divisive areas.

4) Demonizing government: The idea that the federal government is the root of all problems is both false and a view that members of the federal government just can't have. We all have and should have aspects of the federal government's policies and activities that we dislike, but the proper response is to say we need to work to improve government, not to cripple, decimate, or destroy government.

5) Campaign finance: I personally don't see how we bring the American people back to the center of American politics and governance without campaign finance reform, and in particular a system of public financing. The corrosive effect of all the money in today's politics is evident in this latest debacle. We simply cannot tolerate the concentration of power in the hands of insanely wealthy campaign donors.

6) Game mentality: The discussion of political winners and losers is getting out of hand, as is the idea that any given side can get everything they want. The actions of our government should be judged solely on the positive and negative effects they have on the welfare of the American people. Also, both sides need to value getting most or some of what they think is needed rather than taking an all-or-nothing approach.

7) Lack of respect: This is a difficult one and I find myself very easily slipping into this error, but a significant part of addressing our current situation is to reclaim a certain level of respect for political offices. President Obama is the President of the United States, so refer to him as such even when you disagree with his positions and politics. The same goes for Speaker Boehner, fmr. Governor Romney, Minority Leader McConnell, andmost difficultly for meRepresentative Michele Bachmann. The fact they are on the national stage does not give us license to engage in disrespectful, ad hominem attacks.

If we as Americans, from ordinary citizens to those in the highest elected offices, all do our part to limit these divisive aspects of our political culture, we will be able to forge a productive and responsible government. Democrats and Republicans can, will, and should continue to disagree and to disagree vigorously, but they should do so in a way that still permits them to get things done.

Democrats need a strong, rational GOP to force them to evaluate and re-evaluate their ideas and policies, as well as to force them to get their messages out to the American people effectively. Republicans need an strong, energetic Democratic Party to force them to make their case in its best form and to come up with positive solutions to real problems.

We don't need or want them to be best friendsSpeaker Boehner and President Obama don't need matching bracelets, but they should at least be able to be friends. They should be able to come together at the end of the day and say: both sides fought for the policies they see as best for America and together crafted policies that won't please everyone but will have a positive impact on people's lives. After all, that's the real purpose of government.

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