The Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index

The Lugar Center, founded by former Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) is a “platform for informed debate on global issues.” The Center recently published its Bipartisan Index which ranks each member of Congress on his or her ability to work with colleagues from across the aisle. The report uses bill sponsorship and co-sponsorship data rather than a subjective methodology.

Some will challenge the methodology because it does not account for the substance of a bills. It is far easier to co-sponsor with a colleague from the opposing party a bill that, say, honors veterans than one that proposes reforms to social security. Senator Lugar freely acknowledges this in his introduction to the report.

Even so, we believe the Bipartisan Index adds great value. It names names, effectively praising (and reinforcing the behavior of) those who practice bipartisanship and dinging those who don’t. In so doing, it raises awareness in a tangible way to the need for our leaders to improve their ability to govern, not just posture.

Conduct Unbecoming

We normally do not like to bring attention to situations where people get caught up in “negative politics” and consequently fail to achieve common ground. There are too many instances of this sort of thing going on every day. But this editorial in the April 9, 2016 Cape Cod Times captures some principles at the heart of Common Ground Committee’s work.

Both leaders and the public have responsibilities when it comes to political discourse. Leaders must serve as role models for the public in how to work through the tough issues. The public must not only recognize and appreciate the leaders who do so but also resist the temptation to get caught up in the rancor and hatred that feels good but ultimately serves to worsen the situation and make it harder to move forward.

The New Common Ground Between Populist Left and Right

In a unique video presentation, Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton and Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, sees the emergence of a new debate where the populist left and right discover common ground on a number of critical issues and together can “make things happen”.

Fight the fear. Share hope.

Just how at risk are you and I of being victims of terrorism? Is ISIS truly gaining strength? For the answer, check out “Redirect”, a new initiative launched by our media partner, The Christian Science Monitor. Redirect is about fighting with facts the fear that would hold us back or lead to unwise action. It’s motto: “Change the conversation”. In so doing, Redirect aims to inspire hope and move us to a better, more positive mindset, one that will make it easier to finding lasting solutions to our biggest challenges.

Redirect is 100 percent aligned with the mission of Common Ground Committee to “bring light not heat to public discourse”. A primary principle of our work is “using facts, not emotionally-charged talking points” when debating and working on solutions to the problems of the day. Redirect demonstrates that principle in spades. It reminds us that fear is an obstacle that truth can remove. With fear gone, we can walk with assurance the path to progress.

We are very excited about Redirect and hope you will be, too. Check it out. Be inspired. Share it.

Speaker Ryan on the State of American Politics

Hats off to House Speaker Paul Ryan for his strong plea for greater civility in our tumultuous electoral cycle. “Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults,” he said in an upbeat speech to Congressional interns on March 23. “Ideas passionately expressed and put to the test, that’s what politics can be. All of us as leaders can hold ourselves to the highest standard.” Of course, civility is only the first, although a necessary step, to achieving common ground. Civility encourages mutual respect and respect becomes an essential pathway to trust. Then deals can be made and compromises struck. But if mutual acrimony and insults rise to the point where negotiation is no longer possible, everybody loses.

At Common Ground Committee we share Representative Ryan’s optimism that political discourse can rise to higher level. Partisan bickering and gridlock should not be the norm. Our forums have shown that passionate yet civil debate where facts are valued and participants listen to each other are achievable and can lead to common ground. Read the full article here.

Bipartisanship Isn’t For Wimps, After All

The following NYT op-ed piece by Arthur Brooks makes a compelling case that solutions to our most challenging problems must include key elements of opposing positions. Not just because rigid partisanship prevents fruitful discussion but because the solutions that will actually work intrinsically require key elements of philosophy and practice from all sides, not just one.

That notion is a principle we have held as a foundation of our work. While civility is required and sorely needed today, finding common ground is not about playing nice in the sandbox. It’s about being willing to accept that those you disagree with are likely to be bringing key elements to a problem’s solution to the table. Including those elements with yours is bound to yield a better solution than one forged solely from solely yours or theirs.

But, as Brooks points out, that’s the hard part. It shouldn’t be. What’s required is to shift our true motive from demonstrating we are right (and they are wrong) to actually solving the problem. How hard is that? Read the complete article here.

Justice Ginsburg Pens a Moving Tribute to Justice Scalia

The intensity of the political noise caused by the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia reminds us of the Spinal Tap amplifiers turned up to “11”. Painful to the ears. But amid that noise is the outpouring of respect and admiration from a host of people representing all bands of the political spectrum. To us no tribute to Scalia was as noteworthy as that paid to him by his SCOTUS colleague and ideological adversary, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In any debate, bringing light, not heat requires a willingness to listen to and respect the views of those who one might vehemently disagree with. In a relationship similar to but even deeper than that of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil Justices Ginsburg and Scalia not only respected and listened to each other but they were able to build a strong friendship that both clearly treasured. In this 2016 election year, they serve as a reminder that we can expect better not only from our leaders but also from ourselves in how we go about debating issues both public and personal.

Enemies or Friends?

As the election season kicks into high gear the overall tone is swinging even further into the attack zone. While unfortunate, that is natural in an election when candidates’ strategies are all about differentiation. However, those not up for election – and that includes most of us – don’t have to get caught up in the rancorous atmosphere that the competition for votes leaves in its wake.

This recent piece by Rich Karlgaard in Forbes takes a frank look at finding common ground at a personal, day-to-day level. It demonstrates what we believe to be fundamentally true – that we can find common ground on issues of national importance without compromising fundamental principles. The key is to resist the desire for a win-lose (where you win and the person who disagrees with you loses) and seek instead the points of agreement which is a win-win both in moving forward on an issue and in building and maintaining a good relationship that can facilitate future progress. It actually isn’t that difficult to do.

Read the Forbes article here.

The Key to Political Persuasion

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.

Politics needs more civility, not less

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.