Depolarizing America: Finding Common Ground in Congress

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With Congress rigidly divided, what can Washington insiders teach us about bipartisanship?

By almost any measure, Congress is much more rigidly divided along partisan lines than it was 30 years ago. Politicians run nationalized campaigns, not local ones, and frequently demonize the other side.

We examine ways to find common ground among lawmakers and those who work on Capitol Hill, with two deeply experienced Washington insiders.

Betsy Wright Hawkings served as Chief of Staff for four Republican members of Congress over 25 years, and helped build bipartisan coalitions on a range of vital issues. She is now Managing Partner of Article One Advisors, a consulting firm focused on giving organizations strategic advice on how Congress functions.

Tamera Luzzatto served as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2009. Before that, she was on the staff of Democratic Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV for 15 years. Today, she is Senior Vice President of Government Relations at Pew Charitable Trusts.

Betsy Wright Hawkings

Betsy Wright Hawkings served as Chief of Staff to four Republican House members over 25 years, including Congressman Christopher Shays, helping to develop coalitions to pass cross-partisan legislation like the Congressional Accountability Act, the 9-11 Commission and legislation to implement its recommendations. The founding Managing Director of Democracy Fund’s Governance Program, she now heads Article One Advisors, providing support to entrepreneurial organizations seeking to foster dialogue across the ideological spectrum; promote more effective congressional systems, processes and procedures; develop innovative programs to deepen leadership development for members of Congress and staff; and reduce incentives for hyper-partisanship and gridlock in government.

Tamera Luzzatto

Tamera Luzzatto is Senior Vice President of Government Relations at The Pew Charitable Trusts. She ensures that Pew’s wide range of nonpartisan policy work at the state, federal and international levels is effectively and accurately communicated to policymakers. She also oversees Pew’s distinguished advisors program.

Luzzatto served as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2009. Before that, Luzzatto was on the staff of Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia for 15 years, beginning as a legislative aide handling health care and other issues, then serving as legislative director and chief of staff. She was Sen. Rockefeller’s primary liaison to two major advisory panels that he chaired, the National Commission on Children, and the Pepper Commission on health care.

Luzzatto began her career working for ACTION, the umbrella agency for the Peace Corps, VISTA, and other federal service programs. With nearly three decades of experience in politics and government, she speaks regularly about Congress and public policy to academic institutions and other organizations throughout the country.

She currently chairs the board of the Washington Bach Consort, an acclaimed baroque choral group. She also serves on the Johns Hopkins Neurosurgery Advisory Committee and the personnel committee of the Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church. In addition, she is a member of the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., and the Federal City Council.

Luzzatto earned a bachelor of arts degree in government from Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude.

The Case for Black Lives Matter: Hawk Newsome

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As the Black Lives Matter movement grows, are there opportunities for common ground and solutions?

“All lives will matter when Black lives matter,” says our guest, Hawk Newsome, in this passionate, challenging, and fascinating podcast episode.

The co-founder and Chair of Black Lives Matter Greater New York answers the skeptics and makes the case for a movement that has grown in scale and significance since widespread protests erupted last summer after the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

A devout Christian who has spent much of his life campaigning for racial and social justice, Hawk Newsome, discusses his views on love versus violence, systemic racism, and how he reached out to Trump supporters during a tense rally in Washington in 2017. The conversation transcends the simple designations of left and right and seeks to find meaningful solutions that respond to the realities faced by people and communities. This conversation is part of our podcast series that builds on the case for finding common ground.

Read more about Hawk Newsome and how he spends his weekends in this New York Times article.

Hawk Newsome

Hawk Newsome is a former candidate for New York City Council, a cast member on Cop Watch America on BET, and a political activist working at the forefront of the New Civil Rights Movement who has dedicated his adult life to the betterment of his community and our nation as a whole. Mr. Newsome previously served as Special Projects Coordinator at the Bronx County Office of the District Attorney, partnering with tenants’ associations and social service organizations throughout the Bronx. He is co-founder and Chairperson of Black Lives Matter Greater New York.

Depolarizing America: Building Consensus Step-by-Step

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These political veterans disagree on many issues…but agree that now is the time for bridge building. Here’s why.

Kelly Johnston and Rob Fersh disagree strongly on many issues, and voted differently in the 2020 presidential election. But they are friends and “agree on major steps that must be taken for the nation to heed President-elect Biden’s welcome call for us to come together.”

Both believe that constructive steps must be taken to help build trust among Democrats and Republicans, despite deep polarization and a firm resistance to bipartisanship from both ends of the political spectrum. They encourage open dialogue between sectors and interest groups whose views diverge in an effort to deal with divisive political discourse.

Read more from Johnstone & Fersh in an op-ed for The Hill: “We agree on almost nothing except how to solve problems across the political divide.”

Rob Fersh founded Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, and previously worked for Democrats on the staffs of three congressional committees. Kelly Johnston, also a founding board member of Convergence, is a committed Republican and former Secretary of the U.S. Senate. In this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground produced in partnership with Convergence, we talk with both Fersh and Johnston about bridge building and why this work is so urgently needed in an era of political gridlock.

Click here for bonus audio: Rob Fersh describes the process at Convergence.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep. 23- Depolarizing America: Building Consensus

Rob Fersh

Rob Fersh is a Senior Advisor and the Founder of Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, a non-profit organization founded in 2009 to promote consensus solutions to issues of domestic and international importance. Immediately prior, Rob served as the United States country director for Search for Common Ground, an international conflict resolution organization. While at SFCG, he directed national policy consensus projects on health care coverage for the uninsured and U.S.-Muslim relations.

In the 1986-98 period, Rob served as president of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a leading NGO working to alleviate hunger in the United States. Rob also served on the staffs of three Congressional committees, working for U.S. Representative Leon Panetta and for Senators Patrick Leahy and Edmund Muskie. While a Congressional staff member and at FRAC, he was deeply involved in shepherding passage of bipartisan legislation to reduce hunger in the United States. Rob has held additional positions in the federal executive branch and non-profit sector. He was a 1994 recipient of the Prudential Foundation Prize for Non-Profit Leadership. Rob holds a law degree from Boston University and a bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, where he has served as a guest lecturer and co-instructor of a course on collaborative decision making and public policy. He is married, has four children, and two grandchildren.

Kelly Johnston

Kelly Johnston retired from the Campbell Soup Company in October 2018 after a 16-year career as Vice President-Government Affairs. Previously, Kelly spent nearly 25 years in Washington, DC in several leadership positions within the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, politics, and the trade association world. He was Executive Vice President for Government Affairs and Communications at the National Food Processors’ Association (NFPA), serving as the organization’s chief government affairs and communications officer for nearly 6 years.

From 1995 to 1997, he was the Secretary of the US Senate, the Senate’s chief legislative, financial and administrative officer. Kelly has also served as Staff Director of the Senate Republican Policy Committee; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of Transportation; and chief of staff or press secretary to three Members of Congress.

Kelly remains active in the non-profit community. He is a founding board member of the Bonnie and Bill Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communication at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. He also currently serves on the board of Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), which is dedicated to helping employers educate their employees on public policy issues of importance to their jobs. He is a former chairman of the Canadian American Business Council and former co-chair of the Congressional Management Foundation. He blogs on public policy issues, history, and politics at Against the Grain.

A native of Oklahoma, Kelly earned his B.A. degree in Communications in 1976 from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, where he has been named to the Alumni Hall of Fame. He attended Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Demography in Washington, D.C. He has guest lectured on politics, government, lobbying and communications at several universities, including Yale University, the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, George Washington University, Shepherd University, and Burlington County College in New Jersey.

He and his wife, Adrienne, live in Arlington, Virginia. They have two sons.

Tania Israel - common ground

De-polarizing America. What Can We All Do?

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Finding common ground is more vital than ever. How can we reach across deep divides?

The important task of finding common ground in American politics became much more difficult and vital in the wake of the traumatic violence and mayhem at the U.S. Capitol. While most Americans viewed the pro-Trump crowd as thugs, many thought of them as patriots.

This podcast is the first in a new series that deals with the issue of polarization. We speak with professor Tania Israel, author of Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work. Dr. Israel is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and past-President of the Society of Counseling Psychology.

We discuss practical, concrete steps listeners can take to conduct meaningful conversations that reach across deep divisions. “One of the things I recommend is being curious. Try to find out more about what’s behind what somebody says,” she tells us. Join us as we examine the means and methods for de-polarizing America.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep. 22- Depolarizing America

About Tania Israel

Tania Israel is a Professor in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Israel teaches about helping skills, leadership, and community collaboration, among other things. She has facilitated educational programs and difficult dialogues about a range of topics, including abortion, law enforcement, religion, and sexual orientation. Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work (APA, 2020) grew out of Dr. Israel’s skill-building workshop that she developed and delivered to hundreds of participants following the 2016 election. It draws on her strengths as a psychologist and community organizer to prepare people to engage in dialogue across political lines. Dr. Israel’s honors include 2019 Congressional Woman of the Year (CA 24th District), Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Award for Excellence in Mental Health from the California Asian & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, and Emerging Leader Award from the APA Committee on Women in Psychology. To learn more, visit taniaisrael.com or connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram.

The Art of Compromise and Pragmatism

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In a fractured and anxious moment, what can we learn from “The Man Who Ran Washington”?

James Baker was at the center of American political power for three decades. His resume is exceedingly impressive — Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, and White House Chief of Staff twice. Baker’s accomplishments were far-reaching — he helped end the cold war, reunify Germany, assemble the international coalition to fight the Gulf War, negotiate the rewriting of the U.S. tax code, and run five presidential campaigns.

Quite simply he was “The Man Who Ran Washington,” which is the name of the highly-praised new book co-authored by our guests, New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker (no relation) and his wife, Susan Glasser, staff correspondent for The New Yorker.

In this episode, we discuss how Washington has become a more angry, anxious place in recent years, Baker’s steely pragmatism and remarkably successful approach to power and governance – an approach that stands in stark contrast to the fierce tribalism that led to violence in our Capitol this week – and why the art of compromise is crucial to almost any negotiation between powerful rivals.

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Ep. 21- The Art of Compromise

Peter Baker & Susan Glasser

Peter Baker and Susan Glasser are longtime Washington journalists who have written about the intersection of politics and the world. Baker is chief White House correspondent for The New York Times and an MSNBC political analyst. He has covered four presidents and is author or co-author of six books, including Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House. Glasser is a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of the weekly “Letter from Trump’s Washington” as well as a global affairs analyst for CNN. She previously was the editor of POLITICO and editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine.

Episode 20 - Let's Find Common Ground Podcast

2020 Special Moments: Our Search for Common Ground

Episode 20 - Let's Find Common Ground Podcast

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In a year marked by crisis, we look back at remarkable moments of hope, collaboration and healing.

From the tragedy and disruption of COVID-19 through impassioned pleas for racial justice heard across the country, to the deep divisions in our politics, 2020 was a year like no other.

In the first year of our “Let’s Find Common Ground” podcast, we’ve enjoyed a mix of thoughtful, personal and surprising conversations about some of the most important topics of our time. We revisit a few of the most memorable and special moments in this year-end episode.

Among the highlights: Houston’s Chief of Police Art Acevedo, and New York City civil rights activist and mayoral candidate, Maya Wiley, discuss ways to find common ground on police reform. Eva Botkin-Kowacki of The Christian Science Monitor talks about how environmental activists and farmers use different language to discuss the threat of a changing climate. Republican Brian Fitzpatrick and Democrat Abigail Spanberger reveal how they work together to pass laws and find solutions to controversial issues in a dysfunctional Congress.

We also listen to remarkable insights from an inter-racial couple, Errol and Tina Toulon, about their marriage and the story of Jordan Blashek and Chris Haugh, two young men with different political backgrounds who took a cross-country road trip across an ideologically divided nation  to explore an important question – how far apart are we really?

Join us for our special moments of 2020 in the search for Common Ground.

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Ep. 20- Special Moments

common ground 2020

In a Year Like No Other, Delivering Discourse That Heals

By Erik Olsen & Bruce Bond, CGC Co-Founders

The year 2020 was eventful in ways most people never anticipated. For Common Ground Committee (CGC), the arrival of the pandemic meant we had to rapidly pivot from our brand-defining in-person events to come up with a whole new plan for pursuing our mission to bring healing to the incivility and polarization that plagues our nation. We are grateful to report that CGC rose to the occasion.

We Kicked Off With a Great Forum Event in February

The year got off to a good start in February with an exciting forum event at the Columbia Journalism School that we had planned for over a year, Finding Common Ground on Facts, Fake News & The Media. In an explosive era for modern journalism, our panelists Maggie Haberman of the New York Times and Chris Wallace of Fox News found much common ground. The event was covered by The Hollywood Reporter, The Hill, and the Washington Examiner, which provided a link to the entire event. It was the most significant press coverage CGC received to date, and was a great success.

Even In the Midst of a Global Pandemic, We Never Lost Sight of Our Mission

It soon became apparent that plans for future live forum events would be put on hold as the pandemic put an abrupt halt on public gatherings, throwing many organizations in the non-profit sector into turmoil and uncertainty. As the public response to the pandemic rapidly became a very partisan issue, we responded with an op-ed in USA Today on March 20 entitled, “To Stop Coronavirus, We Must Set Aside Partisanship. Here’s How We Can Do It.

We went on to produce three other op-ed pieces in 2020. In USA Today, we described the need for expanding vote-by-mail in the current pandemic environment. Another USA Today op-ed we wrote called out the need to support candidates willing to work across the aisle. Finally, we published a piece in The Hill calling for healing after the election and asking newly elected officials to embrace the country’s need for its leaders to find common ground.

In May, The Common Ground Podcast Was Born

In 2020, CGC also accelerated plans to launch a podcast series, “Let’s Find Common Ground. The series debuted on May 7 with three simultaneous podcast episode releases, all addressing issues arising from the pandemic and the need for leadership and common ground.

Late in May our podcast committee was alerted to the story of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man in rural Georgia killed by three white men who were trying to conduct a “citizen’s arrest.” What was notable was that the men had filmed the incident, thinking that it would give evidence of their innocence. It was a tragic event of mindless brutality. We responded with a healing message by putting together a podcast episode with noted common grounder Daryl Davis, a Black musician who, solely through conversation and building relationships, caused members of the Ku Klux Klan to hang up their robes and give up their racism.

Shortly before the expected release of the podcast the video of George Floyd’s death while in custody was released, sparking widespread unrest in cities across the country. We quickly asked Daryl to do an update on the podcast to include his thoughts about this latest issue. He did so, and that yielded a very timely, effective podcast addressing the problems of racism and the corresponding actions of members of law enforcement. Exceptionally inspiring, it has become one of our most popular podcast episodes.

As race continued to dominate the headlines we produced a series of podcast episodes covering racial equity and law enforcement reform that included interviews with Art Acevedo, the Hispanic Chief of Police for Houston and Errol Toulon, the Black Sheriff of Suffolk County, NY. Sheriff Toulon was joined by his wife,Tina, who is white. The Toulons candidly shared their experiences as a mixed race couple and the perspective it has given them.

In June, We Launched Our YouTube Channel

In June CGC launched a YouTube channel containing over 100 videos of CGC work starting in 2010 and organized in various categories. These include audience reaction, identifying where common ground was found, full forum events, press coverage of CGC activities (including NBC coverage and interviews from the TODAY show and MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin), and partnership activities with other organizations from the Democracy Reform Movement.

We Created the Common Ground Scorecard Just In Time for the Presidential Election

As the summer unfolded and the media focus shifted to the Presidential campaigns, CGC unveiled its latest product, the Common Ground Scorecard. This web-based program is something we had thought about for years and in 2020 finally brought to life. The Scorecard yields an objective score that identifies the degree to which officials and candidates for office are likely to reach across the aisle to find common ground rather than stick to ideology or hold the party line. Essentially it measures the degree to which elected officials are “common grounders.” The tool includes candidates for the presidency, vice-president, members of the U.S. Senate and House and state governors. The Scorecard also includes an option for candidates to pledge to engage in common ground activity while in office.

Over the next several weeks over 15 candidates agreed to take our pledge and local news organizations from Hawaii to Boston picked up the story of how candidates ranked in our Scorecard. In September, Marist College’s highly respected political research organization, the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, evaluated the Scorecard and was impressed. They found it to be “a rigorous assessment, using a number of quantitative factors, to score public officeholders on how much of a ‘common grounder’ they are…. It’s not about issue position but rather focuses on how much an office holder reaches out to those on the ‘other’ side.”

We closed out our 2020 programming with a fascinating webinar featuring members of the cast of Stars and Strife, a documentary about polarization in America and what can be done individually and collectively to address it. NYT columnist David Brooks moderated an in-depth, candid and substantive discussion with former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, BLM of Greater New York’s Hawk Newsome, business leader Katherine Gehl and the film’s writer and director, David Smick.

Looking Ahead to 2021

As we have successfully made a significant shift in how we pursue our mission, we look forward with great anticipation to 2021. We are planning more webinars with notable panelists, continued delivery of our podcast series, enhancement of our Scorecard and new programming elements and tools.

In addition, we anticipate working with like-minded organizations in what is called the “Democracy Reform” movement that we are a part of. We believe strong partnerships are key to the successful pursuit of our mission moving forward.

We also believe every one of us has an important role in bringing light, not heat, to our country’s civil discourse. In this year of unprecedented crisis and division, we are thankful to be part of a community that continues seeking common ground.

Check back with Common Ground Committee and stay up to date on all of our latest events, podcast releases and more! 

In This Together: Climate Change

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After years of warring narratives, can conservatives and activists find common ground on climate change?

For decades, environmental activists have cast themselves as defenders of the planet against greedy, profit-hungry corporations. At the same time, many conservatives have ridiculed the science of climate change and warned against the economic fallout from the Green New Deal and similar initiatives.

In this podcast, we explore a new narrative with two environmental campaigners. Bill Shireman and Trammell Crow are authors of the new book In This Together: How Republicans, Democrats, Capitalists and Activists Are Uniting to Tackle Climate Change and More.

Bill Shireman is President of the non-profit Future 500, which brings together people of all points of view to discuss environmental reform. He teaches leadership and negotiations at UC Berkeley Haas Business School, and is a founding member of BridgeUSA.

Business leader and developer Trammell Crow is the President of the Crow Family Foundation. He is a founder of Texas Business for Clean Air and a member of the Clean Capitalist Leadership Council.

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Ep. 19-In This Together

Bill Shireman

Bill Shireman is a recidivist social entrepreneur, environmental policy innovator, and rare San Francisco Republican-in-plain-site. He brings together people who love to hate each other – capitalists, activists, conservatives, and progressives, among others.

As President of the non-profit Future 500, he invites Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network (RAN), ExxonMobil, Mitsubishi and other corporate and environmental leaders to slip into bed together to create, among other healthy offspring, the world’s first corporate supply chain standards for sustainable forestry (between Mitsubishi, RAN, and then 400 other companies), the most effective beverage container recycling program (the California CRV deposit system and its progeny), and the 2008 agreement by both Greenpeace and Exxon-Mobil to support precisely the same federal tax on carbon, which went absolutely nowhere.

So others can take up where he eventually leaves off, he teaches leadership and negotiations at the UC Berkeley Haas Business School, and serves as a surrogate founding father of BridgeUSA, where young progressives, conservatives, libertarians, and independents all register decline-to-hate, and engage in democracy by listening, speaking, learning, teaching, and then solving problems together.

Professor Shireman is a prolific author who has written nearly as many books as he has sold. His latest book, In This Together: How Republicans, Democrats, Capitalists, and Activists Are Uniting to Tackle Climate Change and More, was published on July 4, 2020. He has three children ranging in age from 13 to 29, none of whom plan to follow in his footsteps. They are making their own. He loves his wife Aileen Ichikawa, who seems to love him back, despite it all.

Trammell S. Crow

Trammell S. Crow is the President of the Crow Family Foundation which operates and manages the Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art as well as the Trammell Crow European Sculpture Garden. Mr. Crow is the son of Trammell Crow, founder of the Trammell Crow Company, and his wife, Margaret.

After graduating from Yale University, Mr. Crow began his career doing warehouse leasing in Denver and then transferred to Houston to develop residential subdivisions and subsequently, to lease retail space. He returned to Dallas to join the development team of the Anatole Hotel, and later worked at the Dallas Market Center when it expanded by more than 2 million square feet. By 1985, he developed the Dallas Communications Complex, the Studios at Las Colinas, INFOMART and the Dallas/Fort Worth Teleport. From 1986 to 1993, Mr. Crow was the Chief Executive Officer of Trammell Crow International.

Mr. Crow is a member of the Board of Directors of the Crow Collection of Asian Art and is actively involved in Thanksgiving Square, a multi-denominational center for the promotion of gratitude and religious tolerance.

Mr. Crow is also a founder of Texas Business for Clean Air, an organization of prominent business leaders throughout Texas who are committed to matters that affect air quality in the state. He is also a member of the Clean Capitalist Leadership Council. The Council offers a transpartisan fellowship of leading clean capitalists, free market and conservation donors, and green conservatives, focused on smart policy innovation.

As the founder of EarthX (formerly known as Earth Day Texas), Mr. Crow has created the largest annual exposition and forum showcasing the latest initiatives, discoveries, research, innovations, policies and corporate practices serving to re-shape a more sustainable future.

With a focus on inspiring environmental leadership across sectors and party lines, Mr. Crow serves on the board of directors for ConservAmerica and is a co-founder of Texas Business for Clean Air and Texans for Clean Water. He is also a long-term supporter of the Texas Conservation Alliance, the Nature Conservancy of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Log Cabin Republicans and the League of Conservation Voters. His philanthropy benefits various nonprofit organizations that are active in family planning, education, the environment, community initiatives and political causes.

tug of war

Why is America so Politically Polarized? Part 2

 

Recently we sat down with Common Ground Committee’s co-founder Erik Olsen to discuss why America is so bitterly divided — a gulf separating us by political party, social and economic issues, and willingness to listen to people we disagree with.

We also discussed when this really took hold, and the role the internet has played in fanning tensions.

This week we take a look where loyalties lie, and what it’s going to take to get them more aligned.

Q: What is the bigger source of tension in today’s cultural climate — issues, or party affiliation?

That question is interesting to me, because I do think the parties have drawn away from their focus of being “in it for the people,” and they’ve become much more focused on being in it for the party. Some people have pointed out the fact that up through the ‘80s we had politicians who had close experience with war, or were even WW2 vets themselves. They recognized the difference between a foreign threat — a true physical threat like the USSR and the Cold War —compared to the threat of China, which is viewed as more of a commercial threat.

So instead, people became more focused on party issues and the extension of party control. I think the parties themselves have focused less on issues and more on pitting different interest groups against one another. This has deteriorated the political environment to some extent. And there’s much more of a “winner take all” attitude that rejects working with the opposition more than focusing on solving the issues themselves.

Q: So, you’re saying the party affiliation IS the divisive issue today?

To a certain extent, when looking at the parties today, there are not nearly the same differences between them as in the ‘60s ‘70s. One party favored expanding social programs, one favored lowering taxes. Today, one party supports tax increases, the other supports lowering taxes, but both parties are happy to spend money they don’t have. And neither one seems to recognize the degree that the government has infiltrated our daily lives and created its own winners and losers. I think this is the advent of what we see as crony capitalism, and both parties are equally offensive.

That creates a perspective on issues that I would argue gets distorted. People look at them as winners and losers, and parties are enhancing that view. Both are trying to foster this division because it supports their own power struggle. I would love to be able to say, Here are the good guys in Washington and here are the bad guys, but for me, the good guys are the ones willing to sit down and talk through the problem, and try to resolve it. Those people seem to be few and far between, especially in the leadership — they are much more interested in the defeat of their enemy.

That needs to be repaired in some way. I don’t see it as imminent. Even if we have a change in the White House, I don’t at all anticipate that it will lead to greater unity in Congress. People think Biden is conciliatory, and his demeanor is different from Trump’s. But it’s not like a Biden-Harris presidency is going to lead to handholding and kumbaya singing with the Republicans at all. I don’t think that’s going to change.

Q: Is this the most divided our country has been in recent history, and what is it going to take to get us out of it?

I think first of all the American people are smart enough that they’ll put up with a lot, then stop putting up with it, and things will change. When people say how much more polarized we are today than at any time in history, they point to bipartisan cooperation that took place in the ‘60s and ‘70s. There was a great deal more political cooperation, but the country today is not nearly as divided at the population level as it was in the ‘60s. I’m old enough to remember ‘68 and the Vietnam war and the civil unrest. We have a lot going on today over police use of force, and people are recognizing that we need to be more aware and awake to where racism is in the country and who benefits and why and how. But we were going through very similar angry confrontations in the ‘60s and we had the assassination of a presidential candidate and one of the greatest civil rights leaders. It was a horrible time.

But my hope and expectation is that more and more people are recognizing that this atmosphere in Washington is not useful and not helpful, and serves a minority of political views — not the majority of political views. And so I think to the extent that we can encourage political leaders to recognize the common ground and the value of working with people on the other side of the aisle, that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to encourage people to vote in that manner, and get people who are less partisan and have more interest in working together to take office. I think under the Trump administration, the opposite has taken place. There may be people who are more common-ground oriented returning to Congress and taking steps to try to tone down the rhetoric. We don’t get anywhere by demonizing people on the other side.

Certainly the concern on the Republican side is that a Democratic majority would push through their agenda in a partisan way. But they would get voted out in the next election with a resounding loss — that’s what happens if they exerted that kind of authority without trying to take into account the views of the minority. So let’s get people in here with differences of views and outlooks, and encourage them to work together. That’s ultimately what’s going to get us out of our current problems.

 

Want to hear more? Be sure to check out our new podcast “Let’s Find Common Ground” where we seek common solutions to today’s vital issues.

Election Briefing: “Why I’m Voting For….”

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With an election just around the corner, can a Trump supporter and Biden backer reach common ground?

With just days to go before the 2020 election, we invited a Trump supporter and a Biden backer to join us in the same (virtual) room, and share the personal reasons behind their vote. We have a lively, spontaneous and friendly discussion about the President’s controversial personality, the final debate, and the big policy and leadership differences between the two candidates.

John Pudner is voting for Donald Trump. He is Executive Director of Take Back Our Republic, a non-profit group and a member of Bridge Alliance. John spent three decades managing Republican political campaigns, and was the eldest of 9 children growing up in a 3 bedroom house in inner city Richmond, VA where he attended a conservative, Catholic high school whose alumni included Steve Bannon. Now John is the father of 9 children.

Philippa P.B. Hughes is voting for Joe Biden. She produces and creates art projects, and is CEO, Chief Creative Strategist and Social Sculptor at CuriosityConnects.us, a non-profit organization that designs pop-up galleries and physical spaces that bring people together who might not normally engage in dialogue and thoughtful interaction. Philippa is the daughter of a conservative Vietnamese mother and a white father who was a lifelong union member. She also grew up in Richmond, but until our podcast conversation had never met John.

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Ep.16- Election Briefing-Why I’m Voting For….

John Pudner

John Pudner has a history of fighting for the underdog. Known for his testimony resulting in a unanimous Federal Elections Commission decision that voters have a right to know who is paying for digital political advertising on the nation’s premier social media platform, Facebook, to building broad coalitions in support of conservative principles, Pudner’s rich history in politics has been recognized among his peers as revolutionary.

In 2014, National Review announced that Dave Brat hired Pudner to advise the first congressional campaign to ever unseat an incumbent House majority leader. Despite being outspent 40:1, Brat defeated Eric Cantor in one of the most unprecedented upsets in political history. For more than three decades, Pudner managed and consulted political candidates and policy campaigns where he developed a renowned strategy in outsmarting, rather than outspending, the opposition. What began as a statistical hobby of extrapolating sports data translated into unprecedented victories for his clients.

With a lifetime of achievement on the campaign trail, Pudner witnessed firsthand the influence of money on politics. Dark money, campaign finance loopholes and a system of manipulation stifles transparency and favors the political elite and union bosses—placing our democracy and liberty at risk.

Combining his experience elevating the grassroots voice with his strong national network of influencers, Pudner leads a team of policy experts, grassroots activists, creative minds and innovative strategists. Founded in 2014, TAKE BACK OUR REPUBLIC focuses on harnessing the power of everyday Americans to change the way we conduct elections and discuss policy.

Pudner serves on the board of directors for Voters’ Right to Know.

A graduate of Marquette University and proud father, Pudner and his wife reside in Auburn, Alabama.

Philippa P.B. Hughes

Philippa P.B. Hughes is a Social Sculptor and Creative Strategist who produces art-fueled projects to spark humanizing and authentic conversations between people who might not normally meet. She has designed and produced hundreds of creative activations since 2007 for curious folks to engage with art and with one another in unconventional and meaningful ways. She leads CuriosityConnects.us, a partner in Looking For America a national series inviting politically diverse guests to break bread and talk to each other face-to-face using art as a starting point for relationship-building conversations.