Finding common ground without compromising fundamental principles is not something that magically happens. It can be particularly difficult in politics, but it is not impossible. Indeed, our organization has found it is always a very present possibility. But there are a number of keys to achieving it. In the following piece published in The New York Times on November 13th, Robb Willer, a professor of sociology at Stanford, identifies an important one: understand the values of those with views different than yours and craft your arguments accordingly. Even if not successful in persuading others, you will have contributed to an environment more likely to bring light, not heat to the debate. And that kind of environment is the petri dish in which common ground and consequent progress can germinate.
The following piece by Jeff Jacoby is thought-provoking but concludes with a prediction, we hope, will be proven wrong. It’s thought-provoking because the civility of Ronald Reagan demonstrates what we at Common Ground Committee know is true: one can debate one’s side with heart-felt passion and still treat the opponent with respect and dignity. But Jacoby’s conclusion that things are not going to end well with the tone of public discourse is not inevitable. Americans of both parties continue to yearn for leaders who can lead effectively while avoiding the cheap shots and empty talking points.
The Presidential race so far has been dominated by showmanship. Of course, in politics there will always be a place for that. But we believe when all is said and done, the vast majority of voting Americans will go to the polls with a clear view of who they think is the best person for the job. We would like to think the candidate who is best able to positively differentiate themselves, inspire people with their vision and at the same time demonstrate respect for their opponents through civil debate and engagement will have a leg up on the competition. Some of the candidates are already pursuing that strategy. We hope more jump on the bandwagon.
Our hat is off to two-time Common Ground Committee panelist Jared Bernstein who demonstrates in the link below that he is walking the civility talk. Note how blog entry author David Henderson speaks about Jared with respect and appreciation – even though the two may disagree fundamentally on the question at hand – simply because of how Jared conducts himself in the discussion. This is the way public discourse ought to work – use facts, listen to and respect one another’s position – and sometimes throw in some good-natured banter just to make things fun.
The opening of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate is a very tangible demonstration of how bipartisanship and a spirit of working together for the good of the county is highly valued by both the public and our leaders even if it is not well-practiced.
Read the article in the Christian Science Monitor.
In a significant bipartisan move backed by President Obama, the House agreed on changing the formula for doctors’ fees and extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
We heartily applaud Mr. Boehner and Ms. Pelosi for working together to put this healthcare bill together and President Obama for supporting it. While both Republicans and Democrats see flaws in the legislation the view that moving ahead on points of agreement was better than pushing for purity won the day. That is what the Founding Fathers envisioned. The bill is perhaps most noteworthy for demonstrating that today’s highly partisan Congress can work together to make progress rather than blast opponents using sound bytes and emotional arguments. Here at Common Ground Committee it is a good day, indeed. We look forward to seeing more results like this one.
We are heartened by the bipartisanship that was demonstrated by the US Senate and political forces such as the Koch brothers and the American Civil Liberties Union in putting together the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. Another proof point that people with diametrically opposed philosophies can work together to drive change that all agree is better than the status quo. Not all sides got everything they wanted but they were pleased to have made some significant improvements. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said it all – “We are political odd couples. But we found common ground.”
Read the New York Times article here.
Finding common ground can be very difficult. But, as this article suggests, the probability of success substantially increases when one understands the other side’s perspective and context. We believe a crucial attribute of a “common grounder” is consistently demonstrating the discipline to do the listening, fact-checking and research needed to gain that understanding.”
A fundamental principle in the forums we produce is that people who know their stuff and disagree can still find points of agreement if they are challenged to do so. This article by Robert Wright in the Atlantic shows how easy it can be – not just to initiate such discussion but to keep it going, too.
The best thing about it: all of us, not just public servants, can use this approach in our own discourse with others.
All Mitch McConnell said it best “When the American people choose divided government, I don’t think it means they don’t want us to do anything.” We couldn’t agree more. Both sides of the political aisle are signaling a bi-model strategy where sometimes they will wield their own power to make things happen but will also look to find ways to work with the other side. They both realize that making progress was the primary demand from the electorate in this election. They – and the country – would be well-served to not lose sight of that demand.
All of this leads us to an important conclusion. More than ever before during the Obama administration the opportunity for our leaders in Washington to demonstrate that finding points of common ground and making progress on our pressing issues is a present possibility. Formidable obstacles remain but it is our hope that both sides will embrace that possibility. Read the New York Times article here.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that Americans are not as divided politically as it would seem. Yes, our elected officials struggle to work together on the more important issues. But people outside of the beltway continue to see eye-to-eye on issues more often than they don’t. This is one of the reasons we at Common Ground Committee believe that finding common ground on important issues is achievable. Check out this DC Decoder article from our media partner, the Christian Science Monitor.