It is not only because we are in an election year that politics in Washington D.C. has become more cutting, oppositional, and unproductive.
Unfortunately, there has been a downward trend for some time and we saw this recently with everything from confrontations to raising the federal debt ceiling, passing a federal budget, near government shutdowns, and what has now become regular showdowns over every major legislation from healthcare to deficit reduction.
We are a nation with government at the crossroads of neuroticism where situations get treated as virtually unsolvable by oppositional political movements who themselves appear hopeless of genuinely working together.
Harvard Business Review (March 2012) in an article titled “What’s Wrong With U.S. Politics,” described the “ineffectiveness of America’s [current] political system,” where instead of opposing sides coming together to craft compromise positions that bring together the best of multiple points of view to find a balanced approach and prudent course for the American people, now instead compromise is seen as surrender, and “the fervor to win too often appears to trump everything else.”
While traditionally the source of political parties and politics itself in America is founded in the opposing views of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton–one who opposed strong central government and the other who favored it, these diametric opposites where a source of national strength, because they strived ultimately to find an almost perfect compromise to whatever ailed the nation.
However, something has profoundly changed–from where “rigorous rivalry between the two political philosophies used to be highly productive” to the current situation of absolutism, where like in July 2011 debt-ceiling crisis, “some politicians even suggested that a government default or shutdown would be less damaging than compromise.”
When last August, Standard and Poor took the historically unprecedented step of downgrading U.S. debt from AAA to AA+, they cited “that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions had weakened.”
This should be of dire concern to everyone in this nation, because we all depend on government to solve problems and do what is ultimately right for the people.
One of the suggestions that HBR makes is grounded in the techniques of negotiation, where we facilitate and help each side “not merely split the difference,” but also “articulate their highest parties, with an eye toward facilitating the best of best of both over time.”
While this is certainly an important element in moving to compromise, there is another core element that is missing and needs to be addressed and that is a mutual respect for all parties and points of view, one where we see ourselves first as one nation, and only second as political parties and positions–in other words, we recognize that our common values and goals obviate the more subtle differences between us.
This coming together as a nation can only happen when there is basic trust between the all sides, so that each knows that the other will not take advantage of them when they wield power, but rather that the views of all will be respected and duly represented in any solution, and moreover that the core beliefs of each will be protected at some fundamental level, even when they are not in power or outvoted.
What this means is that compromise, balance, and fairness prevail over whichever political party resides in power in at the time, and assures each side of the same treatment and protections under the other.
Violating this ultimate balance of power is tantamount to taking the first shot in a situation akin to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), when each side wields destructive nuclear capability.
With critical decisions coming up again on deficit reduction, federal debt ceiling, and social entitlements and national defense spending, and each side digging in, we are fast approaching the equivalent of a thermonuclear showdown in politics, and it is time for both sides to pull back from the brink of national suicide and to once again reinforce the basic principles of mutual respect and enduring compromise–even when one side, or another, has the upper hand.
As a next step, let each side of the aisle demonstrate true compromise in negotiations with the other to reestablish confidence and trust that neither will be wholly overrun or defeated in the political wrangling and fighting that ensues.
The important question in politics must not be which side will wield power, but who can bring the best leadership to the nation to forge a path of sensibility, balance and mutual respect to any solution.
(Source Photo: here with attribution to Elvert Barnes)