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Common Ground News Roundup: August 2019

Can left and right find common ground? Our news roundup says there’s hope.

Looking for good news on bipartisan progress and new research on solutions for overcoming the polarization of today’s politics? Read the top five stories from our August 2019 reading list.

1.) Senators: Here’s a bipartisan plan to fix America’s roads and bridges

CNN – Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Tom Carper (D-DE) of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public works issue a call to get a major bipartisan highway infrastructure bill done. Read more.

2.) New voices of moderation: the ‘alterna-squad’ Democrats

Christian Science Monitor – Five freshman women lawmakers in Congress have built an identity around moderation in a party often portrayed as veering sharply left. Read more.

3.) Republicans don’t understand Democrats—and Democrats don’t understand Republicans

The Atlantic – America’s political divisions are driven by hatred of an out-group, rather than love of the in-group. The question is: Why? Read more.

4.) How to increase empathy and unite society

The Economist – Expressions of political differences have become less cordial, making it harder to find common ground. But we can design institutions and interactions so people get along better. Read more.

5.) What are the solutions to political polarization?

Greater Good Magazine – What creates conflicts among groups? Here are five solutions to political polarization grounded in the psychological processes that shape how we interpret identity. Read more.

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.


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.

— This article was published in The Hill on June 15, 2019

“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.


President George H.W. Bush could have chosen to “spike the football.” It was 1991, and the Berlin Wall had fallen. I remember feeling, like so many Americans, elation. The United States had won, and the world seemed to be a safer place. But instead of taking a boastful tone to mark what would be the end of the Cold War, Bush kept a low profile and let the German people do the celebrating.

Instead of claiming victory, he worked with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, helping to secure a peaceful transition after decades of tension between the two superpowers.

I didn’t know President Bush. The closest I came to him and his family was riding on the school bus with his sons Jeb, Neil and Marvin when I lived in Houston. But his decisions and actions in one of the most critical times of our country told me everything I needed to know about the man.

As the country celebrates the life of our 41st president, many are wondering how to best honor his legacy. I’d say it begins with each of us, citizens and leaders, refusing to participate in the destructive tribalism that has dominated our politics in recent years.

That tribalism is hardly news. We see it every day from both sides of the aisle. In Texas, supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz at a rally personally attacked his opponent, Beto O’Rourke, for his physical appearance. O’Rourke’s fans returned the favor…

The country is taking notice. Only 38 percent of Americans say the United States is heading in the right direction, and an annual poll tracking discourse shows 93 percent say America has a civility problem. During the course of his presidency, Bush frequently represented our better instincts as a nation when it came to how we engaged in our politics.

To be sure, Bush had his moments of bitter partisanship. The infamous 1988 Willie Horton campaign ad is still viewed as one of the lowest moments in modern politics. But more often than not, he chose country over party. There was no greater example of that than during his campaign for re-election. Bush famously promised no new taxes before he took office, a message that appealed to his conservative base. But in 1990, facing the prospects of a government shutdown, he struck a deal with congressional Democrats that ultimately raised taxes.

Bush himself would say that cost him the election, but he did it for the good of the country. He wrote in his memoir, “…when you’re faced with the reality, the practical reality of shutting down the government or dealing with a hostile Congress, you get something done.”

As the nation faces the reality of a divided government after the midterms, the new Congress would be wise to heed Bush’s words. If politicians truly want to honor his legacy, they should do so by following his inclination to work with and respect the other side, even if it’s not politically expedient. That doesn’t mean sacrificing core values for the sake of compromise. It does mean having the determination to work with political opponents to make progress on the tough issues.

In praising his former boss, Vice President Dan Quayle told Fox News that a divided government can work “if you reach across the aisle and work hard.”

We’ve seen examples of this over recent years.

U.S. Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold joined forces in regulating the financing of political campaigns. More recently, Ohio politicians reached across party lines to create the Congressional Civility Caucus. Politicians like Donna Brazile, Michael Steele, John Sununu, and Barney Frank took part in public forums hosted by the Common Ground Committee, an organization I co-founded that inspires action on polarizing issues by bringing prominent leaders with opposing views together to find common ground.

But we can’t remove the rancor and polarization that plague our halls of leadership unless each citizen decides that rewarding that behavior with a vote on Election Day is no longer acceptable. As the 2020 presidential election ramps up, every American should keep George H.W. Bush in mind when they go to the polls. Which candidate has the qualifications and strength of conviction to put politics aside and do what’s best for the country? Who has the decency, grace and kindness that our 41st president demonstrated throughout decades of public life? Whoever best demonstrates those qualities, put party aside, and vote for that person.

President Bush’s passing has brought about a temporary return to civility, as leaders from both sides of the aisle have come out to rightly praise his dignity as a leader. We’ll be doing him a disservice if we once again return to the toxic partisanship that divides rather than unites. I’m confident we can continue his legacy if we, as citizens, resolve ourselves to support politicians who prioritize country over party so that our leaders can move out of the polarization rut and more consistently make the choice to work toward common goals. George H.W. Bush set the example. Now, let’s all follow it.

— This article was published in the Houston Chronicle on December 5, 2018

“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.

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.


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

Polarization has reached a tipping point. To fix it, start by voting for candidates with a record of bipartisanship, regardless of their party.

The spate of suspicious packages and pipe bombs targeting prominent Democrats and the recent hate crimes have been horrifying. As someone who works full-time on mitigating the increasing polarization that divides our nation, I see intense disagreement every day. This was something else entirely — heartbreaking, appalling and shocking. These attacks and an increase in incendiary rhetoric have further exposed the festering divisions in our country. But they also spurred a bipartisan call for civility.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, expressed how we need to “tone down the rhetoric. Both sides. We’ve got to see people as opponents, not enemies.” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tweeted a statement saying, “Despicable acts of violence and harassment are being carried out by radicals across the political spectrum — not just by one side. Regardless of who is responsible, these acts are wrong and must be condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike. Period.”

On Tuesday, I will join Americans in voting for members of both chambers of Congress. In 36 states, my New York included, we are voting for governors as well. Only 38 percent of Americans say the United States is heading in the right direction, and an annual poll tracking discourse shows 93 percent say America has a civility problem. It is evident. The divisive, angry tone of our public discourse is increasingly dangerous and too often perpetuated by those we elect to public office.

Vote for those who will find common ground

Your vote has the power to reverse the deepening abyss of destructive politics if you divert from voting along ideological lines and choose candidates who prioritize making progress on key issues over attacking the opposition. Cast a ballot for those who are not only capable of finding common ground but who also seek opportunities to repeatedly reach across the aisle.

If we don’t vote common ground before party, the pernicious effects of incivility following the midterm elections will only intensify.

To be sure, I am not advocating voting for “nice” people. The best leaders never compromise their fundamental principles. But our country needs leaders who are aware that their default approach needs to be finding common ground, not solely standing their ground. When they do dig their feet in on an issue, good leaders attribute their firm stance to their principles, not flaws in their opponent’s character.

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. Utilize the Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index and the Allegheny College’s Prize for Civility in Public Life to learn more about politicians known for working civilly with their opponents to find common ground. Ask candidates to describe how they work with members of other parties to move forward on issues you care about — whether that is health care, guns or immigration — then cast your ballot for those you believe will work across party lines to solve those problems. In other words, vote common ground.

Use your vote to shift our political climate from destructive to constructive. Vote for candidates who understand that impactful and long-lasting solutions come only from a wealth of input from voices who bring different experiences and views to the table. Today, our politics are rooted in the mindset that the other’s perspective is, at best, a “check the box” consideration. This approach is unproductive. Just look at how the Senate voted along party lines for the Affordable Care Act and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The minority party vowed to significantly change or repeal these bills once they resumed power. In the case of ACA, they did just that.

We need leaders in office who will stand tall on the two or three issues that matter most to them and their constituents yet prioritize working with others with differing views, not to check a box but because it is necessary to bring lasting change.

Historically, politicians have worked across party lines. President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich found common ground on welfare reform. Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold joined forces in regulating the financing of political campaigns. Though harder to find, it’s happening today, too.

A Democratic gubernatorial candidate in South Dakota chose a Republican as a running mate. Ohio politicians reached across party lines to create the Congressional Civility Caucus so Congress can reach results, not fight. Politicians like Donna Brazile, Michael Steele, John Sununu, and Barney Frank took part in public forums hosted by the Common Ground Committee, an organization I co-founded that inspires action on polarizing issues by bringing prominent leaders with opposing views together to find common ground.

We can still fix polarization

We are not past the point of no return. According to a recent study on polarization, 77 percent of Americans say the differences between us are not so big that we cannot come together. Regardless of your political affiliation, it is crucial to your vote. Vote and help others vote common ground as well.

In a recent heated election, rather than vote for ideology, I decided to vote for the candidate who earned my respect for the strength of character, and in previous positions, demonstrated an ability to work with opponents. Fighting along ideological lines has buried us deep in this political quagmire. Let’s wield the power of our democracy and use our vote to move in a new direction, one that puts the country’s need for common ground and progress before ideology and party.

— This article was published in USA TODAY on November 5, 2018