All the talk these days in politics is about how polarized America has become. There is certainly plenty of partisanship reverberating through the hallowed halls of Congress, what with the constant threat of filibusters and the passage of the health-care law by "budget reconciliation." Not a lot of bipartisan pizza parties happening on the Hill, that's for sure.
And the polarization is deafening on the airwaves and in cyberspace. Between the websites, talk radio, and talking-heads on cable TV, there is not much love felt by those on each side of the political aisle. The tone of these discussions, usually angry and personal, doesn't help either. As long as everyone is bound in their ideological cloth and in a hyperemotional state, any attempts at reasoned conversation between those of apparently divergent views will be a nonstarter.
Through my blogging, I have been fortunate to have many substantive conversations with many people who hold views that seem quite different from my own. Here's what I found. Though we did disagree on many issues, once we got past the ideological talking points, the emotions, and the stereotypes, we actually found that we had a lot in common. For example, we share many values such as hard work, integrity, justice, responsibility, freedom, and compassion. Once we focused on what we agreed instead of on what we disagreed, we each realized that the other was not Satan incarnate, but rather a human being and an American much more alike than different.
Recently I have been thinking a lot about whether those on either end (and outside) of the political spectrum can find common ground. Excuse me? Did you read me correctly ? Yes, I said common ground. This seemingly alien concept came to mind following four posts in which I had conservatives and Libertarians actually agreeing with me. The four posts were about the self-esteem problem in America, the value of gratitude, the semantics of the BP oil disaster, and raising environmentally conscious children, respectively.
We all agreed that parents need to stop spoiling their children and demand respect, responsibility, and hard work from them. We all saw the value of gratitude and how it is underappreciated in our culture. We had consensus that calling the situation in the gulf a spill is a travesty. And we shared the belief that teaching our children to be responsible stewards of Mother Earth was reasonable.
So I got to thinking about other issues on the current political landscape on which we might also find common ground. I decided to really challenge myself and consider some of the principles held dearly by those groups with whom, on the surface, I might usually disagree vigorously. I chose the Tea Party and its Contract from America to confront this challenge head on.
Here's the common ground I found with the Tea Party:
- Demand a balanced federal budget. I am all for responsible federal spending. As Americans, we individually have to live within our means and our federal government should too. If Congress isn't grown up enough to spend responsibility, then we the people need to give them an allowance.
- Simplify the tax system. The federal tax code is a seemingly inescapable labyrinth. And I hate spending a good-sized chunk of my income on an accountant to guide me through the morass of tax laws.
- Limit annual growth in federal spending. Why is it that our federal government thinks it needs to keep spending more and more. It seems that our elected representatives are in a race to see how much they can give to special interests.
- Reduce earmarks: Our representatives say that earmarks simply serve their constituents. But they are really the source of self-serving governance, corruption, and backroom dealing.
Four out of ten? Not great, but it's a start. Other areas on which we might find common ground:
- Anger at our elected representatives for not acting in the best interests of those they purport to represent.
- Need for campaign reform. As long as Big Everything has so much influence on elections, we the people will never be heard in Washington.
- Throw out the lobbyists. As long as Big Everything has the ear and the wallet of Congress, our representatives will never really represent us.
- Deficit reduction. We are just passing along our economic recklessness to our children and that is just plain wrong.
- Personal liberty. I'm all for government staying out of citizen's lives as long as what they do doesn't impact others .
Can we find common ground on these four items? Let me know.
Admittedly, we may differ on how to accomplish these goals, but I figure that if we can start from a point of common ground, we have a better chance to listen and talk rather than cover our ears and yell. We may gain respect for and from those with whom we usually disagree. And, most importantly, we might actually find some solutions to America's many problems that we can all live with.
Now here's my challenge to you: Where can you find common ground with those with whom you often disagree?