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.

 

Power & Politics: A News 12 Interview with Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen

Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen were featured on News 12 Connecticut speaking about our country’s crisis of political polarization and how we can fix it.

 

“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

Thoughts from our President on July 4th and how it should inspire us.

As is my family’s custom, on the morning of July 4  we attended a reading of the Declaration of Independence and the original Bill of Rights to a packed house at the iconic Unitarian Church on Nantucket. The reading was preceded by audience participation in the singing of patriotic American songs including “America The Beautiful”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, “It’s a Grand Old Flag,”, and others. It was a rousing event, one that amid the celebration reminded me of how hard it was to get where we are today as a country.

But for the first time, I can remember, it wasn’t all rah-rah. Two passages from the Declaration generated specific applause from many in the audience who saw  them in the light of our current political situation:

“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”

“He (the King) has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the reasons for it, there was great significance in that applause. The fact that Americans can freely and openly express their grievances with not just our government but the person leading it and not fear repercussion is a freedom that enables our country to continue to not just survive but thrive.

I happened to sit next to a young woman from Chile who is doing a summer internship involving historic preservation here on the island. We had a great conversation. It was exciting for me to see her thoroughly engaged and enjoying the experience of witnessing how Americans feel about their country, even when they express their displeasure.

As inspired as I was by the festivities I, too, felt emotions this year I had not previously experienced at these Declaration readings. Recalling my visit to Charlottesville earlier this year I found myself wondering how the Black Americans in the Nantucket audience were feeling during the reading. They were there and fully participating in the celebration. But do they feel differently about the country than I do? What was in their thoughts when they heard these words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”?

America has its challenges, but July 4th reminds me that living Americans have more fundamental things in common than they have differences. My hope is that we can increasingly work outward from those common elements and shared culture. If we can each harness the spirit and deep resolve behind the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in our civic engagement we can find common ground, make progress on the issues that divide us and make this already great nation even better.

Conversation Watch: Police and Community

As we mentioned in our last blog and Facebook posts, we will be posting a book list of recommended readings that show how various people are seeking and sometimes achieving common ground. One of our first recommendations was Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey Into the Heart of America which focuses on how individual communities are revitalizing through working on local problems and in some respects ignoring the noise of the echo chambers.

During our recent event in Charlottesville, VA featuring Donna Brazile and Michael Steele on the Role of Government in Bridging the Racial Divide, Michael Steele made the point that government can only do so much and that community engagement must be a major part of any achievement of common ground on the racial issues that rip communities apart. Michael added a personal antidote by recounting his upbringing where the local police for example lived and patrolled their neighborhoods and consequently knew exactly who those were most likely to create problems. Donna Brazile agreed with this point and added her own personal antidote of a similar experience growing up with civil servants and first responders who worked in the areas they lived in.

An example of the type of community conversation that Steele and Brazile were referring to took place this month in South Bend, Indiana which has seen its share of incidents where civil rights violations have been alleged and both sides have agreed over the course of time that work is needed to be done between the police and the community to restore trust while mindful of safety needs of everyone involved,.

The City and constituents mostly from African American neighborhoods in South Bend have been engaging for the last couple of years on a series of meetings both big and small to try to bridge some of the gaps and at least attempt to find some common ground on how police and members of the African American community can at least come to terms with how to approach the issues.  The most recent took place on May 1st that was organized and filmed by a local television station.

The central theme that emerged was that many of the issues that divided the sides stemmed from generalization rather than specifics and policies that were in place such as how a suspect is identified or detained is often at the mercy of departmental policies. Solutions may lie in more local policing where there is a higher familiarity with actual people. Additionally, communities need to be more proactive in discussing how these policies are created and become more engaged in the process.

If nothing else arises from these conversations, they are demonstrations that change is hard and will take time and continual discussion but the fact is that without some framework to at least try to hear what the other side is saying common ground cannot be achieved.

 

Links to the three-part video series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

A follow up on discernment in our schools about fake media.

A few posts back we talked about a teacher who had begun an initiative with his class to be able to discern fake news from real news and the critical importance of this skill to ensuring a sound democracy.  This initiative is becoming a movement among educators and legislators including programs in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Mexico and the state of Washington.  Arizona, New York and Hawaii are expected to join the cause this year. These bills focus on media and in particular digital literacy.  Many of the bills’ authors are using models from groups such as Media Literacy Now and the Digital Citizenship Institute  .  Opposition has been limited and mostly surrounding the possible costs to school funding of any additional mandates so many of the rules are framed as voluntary.

This movement comes at a time when there is increasing recognition that no matter what side of the aisle you may be on, it is necessary to try to ensure that our populace, especially young people who spend a substantial amount of time online, have discernment skills.  This follows a recent study by Stanford University researchers which “warned that students from middle school to college were ill-equipped to use reason with online information.

CGC believes that such efforts to make a better informed citizenry can and should be supported. “I don’t think it’s a partisan issue to appreciate the importance of good information and the teaching of tools for navigating the information environment,” said Hans Zeiger, a Republican state senator in Washington who co-sponsored a bill that passed in his state earlier this year. “There is such a thing as an objective source versus other kinds of sources, and that’s an appropriate thing for schools to be teaching.”

CGC will update as more information on this movement continues.  Are you aware of any legislation in your community on this issue?  Do you feel well equipped to speak to those who have the ability to sponsor this type of legislation?  Do you feel you have the skills and information to be able to discern fact from fake and how to approach your child on this?