How To Bridge the Gap Between Political Parties
Posted by James Hoffmann on September 12, 2016 at 11:06 AM
In our republic, we have two processes: electing our representatives, and governing the nation through them. These are two very different things.
Electing representatives through the campaign process sets the two major parties against each other. They act like they are at war. They tend to demonize the other side. They tend to act like they alone are right while the other side is totally wrong.
When the election is over, the time for governing the country begins. The election has given one party some level of control, but it is usually small. And even when one party wins the Presidency, and has majorities in both the Senate and House, the other party in the Senate can stop any legislation by requiring a 60 vote majority, instead of a 51 vote majority, to move it forward. While this prevents the majority from doing whatever it likes and from running amuck, it also slows down getting things done in Congress.
This is how our Constitution was designed, along with the Senate rules, so that the parties would be required to compromise in order to govern effectively. Compromising and, even better than that, finding common ground on issues, demands skills beyond the skills of war-like campaigns.
What are these governing skills? They are the same skills we learn in everyday life, in our families and our work places, in our churches, schools, and clubs. We learn that people often differ in their opinions on what to do and how to do it. Not everybody thinks the same way, so we learn to allow others to have their views, just as we have our views. We learn to adjust to each other, to come to some common agreement about what to do and how to do it, even on complex things at home such as how to discipline children, how to guide them to responsibility, etc.
When it comes to more complex groups like workplaces, churches, schools, and clubs, opinions multiply and problems get more complicated. So we learn how to listen to each other, how to learn from each other, and how to find common ground. We do not always succeed, but we do the best we can.
If these smaller groups demand great understanding and hard work to solve problems, imagine what governing well demands at every level: county, city, state, and especially the federal government. We need, in much more abundance, these same skills when we are in office, and we also need them as we prepare to elect people to represent us.
So the basic learnings are these: during election campaigns, political parties will demonize the other side, act like they alone have all the answers, fight like they are in a war. Thoughtful citizens regret this extreme behavior, but endure it be cause that’s the way it is for the present.
But we can choose not to behave that way ourselves, and to encourage our party to tone it down and behave more maturely. While we often hear about how difficult it is for the Democrats and the Republicans to find common ground, I have recently heard of wise people from both parties getting together to find ways to bridge the gap between the parties.
These people remember how even our Founding Fathers often disagreed on how to set up our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And later, in Congress and the Presidency, they often disagreed on what to do and how to do it. But what held them together was the urgent pressure to succeed as a Democracy. Failure was not an option they could live with. And this remains true for us.
Throughout our history, from generation to generation, both parties found some ways to grow up and break through gridlock to move the country forward. Each generation of Americans and their representatives need to do this. That's why we have always called our Democracy “an experiment in the making,” and the job is never done. Each generation does its best and passes it on.
Now it is our turn, in our lifetime, in our generation, to elect candidates who will not only compromise effectively, but will also find common ground and pass legislation that embodies the values of both parties and the American people.
And we citizens are a part of this. We see that we already have inside ourselves the skills to listen, to understand others and their values, to hear and be heard, and sometimes to find common ground. We are able to join the people of our generation who are finding ways to bridge the gaps between parties, and to create laws and policies that will move our nation forward. We'll have missteps and even failures, but we'll learn from them and carry on. That's how our better angels in every generation have always done it.
As you plan to do what you can in this effort, go to this web site: bridgealliance.us where you will find great examples of people already building bridges. In the top line, click on Our Alliance Members and you'll find the name of each group working to build bridges in our country, and their web site. Enjoy your search and your adventures in joining the bridge-builders.
Another web site is nicd.arizona.edu/standards, which stands for National Institute for Civil Discourse. You'll find solid standards we all can use in talking with each other about politics and problem solving of any kind. You'll also find encouraging stories of how people all over the country are already doing this and thus breaking through gridlock and feeling great as they accomplish this. What a wonderful opportunity we have here for our lives at whatever age and circumstances we are.
See you on the bridges.
*© James E. Hoffmann, August, 2016, Cincinnati, Ohio