Ocasio-Cortez and Cruz’s dialogue shows common ground isn’t just for moderates

Common Ground Committee co-founder, Erik Olsen, shares his thoughts and views on two of the countries current most polarizing political figures Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and  Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) coming together through an unlikely dialogue and shows how common ground can be found between both sides of the aisle.

You can find this article in The Hill and below


The week of May 27, 2019, seemed like a typical one for U.S. political discourse. Fox News Host Sean Hannity accused Special Counsel Robert Mueller of being “full of crap” while a columnist for the Nation referred to President Trump as the “narcissist-in-chief.” One simple Twitter exchange stood out among the noise.

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) made a call on Twitter to ban former members of Congress from lobbying. Not long after, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) chimed in, suggesting the two start a dialogue and team up for a bill. It was a rare moment of civil dialogue and agreement between two leaders typically seen as the most extreme in their respective parties. It was followed by the two also finding some agreement on the issue of birth control and beginning to collaborate outside Twitter.

It shows that common ground is not just for moderates.

Banning members of Congress from going into lobbying is something that should have bipartisan support. But action hasn’t been taken since 2007 when the Senate passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. This fact is a reflection of a toxic culture of polarization that has plagued our politics — both inside and outside of DC — and has caused members of the opposite party to be viewed first with suspicion, and then as enemies rather than potential partners.

The numbers back this up. The percentage of Americans who view the opposing side as unfavorable has doubled in the last two decades. And a recent poll from Georgetown University found that 90 percent of voters are concerned about incivility in politics.

To be sure, dialogue between Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Cruz will not solve our country’s civility problem. In fact, since their initial dialogue, Sen. Cruz called a critic from The New York Times a “leftist” and accused her of racist tweets. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, dismissed a presidential candidate who disagreed with her about Medicare for All. But while the agreement between the two may not solve all our problems or lead to a substantive policy change, it sets the stage for less vitriol and more civil dialogue.

It’s true that the ultimate goal of finding common ground is to find agreement on policy issues. But before that can happen, you have to understand and empathize with the other side. Conversation in and of itself will not solve all our problems, but without it, we eliminate an important step towards tearing down the stereotypes that exist about the other side.

Conservative media has denigrated Rep. Ocasio-Cortez as a “little girl” and compared her policies to Joseph Stalin. Sen. Cruz has been on the receiving end of his share of attacks, too. Beto O’Rourke echoed President Trump by calling him “lyin’ Ted” during Cruz’s successful re-election campaign. Perhaps by having this dialogue on lobbying, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Cruz will see beyond these negative portrayals of each other and find areas of agreement.

There has been a long and fruitful history of ongoing civil dialogue between opposite sides in government. During a recent forum held by Common Ground Committee, a nonprofit I co-founded to promote civility in politics, former Secretary of State John Kerry reflected on a time when he and his Republican colleagues could have dinner at Sen. Ted Kennedy’s house and have thoughtful civil discussions. At another event, Chris Matthews and David Gergen detailed how Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and President Reagan, despite their tremendous differences, maintained a robust friendship with open lines of communication.

We know open and productive dialogue is possible, even between politicians who are on the far left and right of their parties. So how do we ensure that it’s more of a common occurrence than a pleasant surprise? It starts with getting out of our own echo chambers. Accept the truth that including more than one view contributes to a stronger position and a better, more effective solution. Be open-minded to facts that might conflict with your narrative, listen to others without rushing to judgment and seek to understand why those we disagree withhold the views they do. You may discover there are areas where you actually agree.

Change can also come from citizens. Elected officials represent the mindset of their constituents. They see there is little to no consequence for disparaging and refusing to engage with the other side. We can change that with our actions and votes. Cast ballots for candidates with strong track records of working with those holding different political views. Regardless of their party, choose candidates who speak out against the speech and policies designed to divide us.

It’s too early to say whether the dialogue between Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Cruz will lead to a change in tone in our politics, let alone a change in policy. But even if this interaction doesn’t move beyond Twitter, it highlights an important point: If members of the far left and right can find a way to put their differences aside, there’s no reason the rest of us can’t as well.

 

House Democrats make clear who’s in charge

US News and World Report article on the new Congress features Co-founder and CEO, Bruce Bond.

Bruce is the first person quoted in the story, where he comments that he sees limited opportunities for common ground on issues like infrastructure and Dreamers. He is also quoted as saying “there is still the mindset that if you are perceived to be working with the enemy, you are the enemy.”

“Honor Bush’s legacy by forgoing tribalism”

Common Ground Committee co-founder, Bruce Bond, shares and memorializes the late President George H.W. Bush by urging readers to honor his legacy by forgoing tribalism and support candidates who do the same through civility and common ground methods.

You can find this article in Houston Chronical opinion section

Bruce Bond Interview with Chance Seales from Newsy “The Why”

Earlier this month, our co-founder Bruce Bond joined Chance Seales on Newsy’s “The Why” to talk about how the new Congress can find common ground. During the nearly 4-minute interview, Bruce details Common Ground Committee’s mission, why the country still admires and wants civility, and some of the areas he thinks Democrats and Republicans can work together during the new session of Congress.

You can watch the full interview here.

“If you want to fix the polarization crisis, use your vote to shift the political climate”

Common Ground Committee co-founder, Bruce Bond, shared his thoughts on how and why we should vote for common ground this election in an op-ed for USA TODAY. “If you want to fix the polarization crisis, use your vote to shift the political climate”.  As you research candidates before heading to the polls, look for those with a track record that demonstrates a bias toward making progress on issues, not destroying the other side.

“The Kavanaugh debate was destructive tribalism on steroids. Here’s how we can stop it from happening again.” 

Common Ground Co-Founder Bruce Bond reacts to recent displays of incivility and tribalism in American politics for The Hill: “The Kavanaugh debate was destructive tribalism on steroids. Here’s how we can stop it from happening again.” 

 

Thought from our President on our event in Charlottesville

As co-founder of Common Ground Committee, I am very excited about our public forum, “Finding Common Ground on Government’s Role In Bridging Racial Divides” which will take place this Sunday, April 22 at 1 pm at The Haven in Charlottesville, Virginia. We will be the final session of the weekend-long Listen First in Charlottesville event, part of the National Week of Conversation. We will be joined in Charlottesville by a number of organizations who, like us, are working to heal the challenges of polarization and rancorous discourse. We are pleased and honored to be working with them. And we are grateful to Donna Brazile, Michael Steele and Wendi C. Thomas for being panelists and moderator for our public forum.

On a personal note, yesterday I had the opportunity to take a private tour of James Madison’s home, Montpelier. Madison is considered the “Father of our Constitution”. I learned just how true that is. When one thinks about how countries throughout the world have adopted the principles of government that Madison put forth it is hard to imagine anyone who has had a greater impact on the evolution of global political evolution. In the US, the Constitution is something we use every day. Madison was someone who truly changed the world for the better.

He was also a slave owner. A relatively new exhibit at Montpelier brilliantly captures the impact of slavery on our nation and on the lives of the enslaved, specifically those at Montpelier. It is an undeniable fact that the early and remarkable growth of the American economy was largely built on the institution of slavery. For people like me who truly love this nation, it is painful to see and acknowledge this blight on our history. But it is important that we do so if we are to successfully bridge racial divides. It has given me a different perspective as I think about our forum on Sunday.

State of the Union Address: Part 1 – Does it matter?

With the State of the Union address less than 24 hours away, the question of its relevance in today’s polarized political climate is on the minds of all of the major media outlets as well as CGC. Today’s blog post we start a 3-part series about the State of the Union. Today we will focus on the history of the speech to ready ourselves for tomorrows address.

The history of this speech is surprisingly far more politically charged then one would imagine.  The speech has its origins and obligation rooted in the Constitution, Article II, Section 3, Clause 1, which states The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

The first president to make such a speech was George Washington in what was then known as the Annual Message. Jefferson later discontinued the tradition because to him to smacked of the Annual Message presented by the British crown each year (and he didn’t want to make the trip up to the then capital of New York). For some years, it was presented by a clerk and then devolved into a written message.  Woodrow Wilson revived the personal delivery in front of the full Congress.

Wilson’s motives for re-instituting the in person address was due to his belief that the founders erred on making the three branches of government separate and that by doing a in-person delivery he could further his agenda and make a more democratic process. With the exception of Herbert Hoover, all other presidents since Wilson have presented a public speech and used available media to ensure the public had awareness.

While on its face, the presentation of the State of the Union address should be a benign event that has not always been the case.  There have been some humorous moments in recent history caught for posterity by television and kept alive as memes and gifs by the internet (such as Justice Ginsberg taking a nap in 2015 and Vice President Joe Biden grinning and pointing). However, there have also been some moments where unfortunate political polarization has been captured such as when Justice Alito reacted to President Obama’s criticism of the Citizens United decision and President Nixon’s argument that one year of Watergate was enough.

While the historical aspects of the speech are interesting and historians can and do debate which speech was best or worst, CGC would pose the question as to whether or not the speech has a relevance as a way to generate common ground.  Have presidents been able to spark unity and understanding through the speech or is it simply an arcane exercise?

Do you plan on watching the speech or boycotting?  Will you watch with an eye and ear towards understanding the other side’s position?

Nantucket Project Packs its Headquarters for Panel Discussion On Civility

In today’s society many of us find ourselves confronted with rudeness every day: there is the morning road raged driver who flips you the bird, the insults in public spaces, whether on social media or at work, we have all experienced incivility. Read more

Greenwich discussion focuses on civility

GREENWICH — Panelists from politics, art, philanthropy and journalism weighed in on how America can mix civility back into the national discourse at the Nantucket Project Library in Greenwich last week. Read more