Friday, June 15, 2012

Breaking the stalemate

 President Obama gave a partisan political speech in Cleveland yesterday, laying out his vision for our economic future, and contrasting it with that of the opposition. The speech makes a strong case for why the Democrats' program will help us achieve our economic goals, while the Republicans' ideas have not and will not work. But he also talked about how we might change the political dynamics in this country to allow us to better deal with our economic problems. The president made the case that our political problems may be more serious than our economic problems:
 And what is holding us back is not a lack of big ideas.  It isn’t a matter of finding the right technical solution.  Both parties have laid out their policies on the table for all to see.  What’s holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take. And this election is your chance to break that stalemate. 
One way to break the stalemate, of course, would be to elect more Democrats. Considering the strong case the president was making for choosing the Democratic program over the Republican program, that is certainly one conclusion voters can and should draw. But the president's approach to government does not necessarily require that his party obtain an overwhelming majority of votes in Congress. Rather, it asks both parties, without surrendering their principles, to work together to find common ground. President Obama appealed to what he called a "shared vision" that Democrats and Republicans used to have that allowed for the creation not only of Social Security (under Roosevelt) and Medicare (Johnson), but also the transcontinental railroad (Lincoln), the Interstate Highway System (Eisenhower) and the Environmental Protection Agency (Nixon).
It’s this vision that Democrats and Republicans used to share that Mr. Romney and the current Republican Congress have rejected -- in favor of a "no holds barred," "government is the enemy," "market is everything" approach. And it is this shared vision that I intend to carry forward in this century as President -- because it is a vision that has worked for the American middle class and everybody who's striving to get into the middle class.
In 2008, the country responded to President Obama's call for us to reduce partisan bickering, get beyond the divisive idea of red states and blue states, and learn to sit down together to solve common problems. Yesterday's speech in Cleveland provides evidence that the president has not abandoned that goal, even though it seems to have been wholly rejected by the other party, which continues to portray President Obama, falsely, as some kind of left wing ideologue.

Congressional leaders should ask themselves why the public's approval rating of Congress is somewhere around 17% (17%!), while President Obama's approval rating, in the midst of the worst economy in most of our lifetimes, is still close to 50%. People understand where the partisanship and obstructionism reside. People understand that we cannot solve the long term problem of our national debt if one side refuses to consider any steps that will increase revenue. The Republican insistence on spending cuts only will not work, and has produced only stalemate. We also cannot solve our immigration problems by refusing to consider any solutions other than mass deportations and stricter law enforcement. Everyone who has studied the problem knows that will not work, and an uncompromising stand on this issue has produced only stalemate. Similarly, we cannot reduce unemployment if we keep firing government workers, and refuse to consider any solution that acknowledges that government has a role to play in jump-starting the economy.

If the Republicans sweep back into power this November, that will vindicate their strategy of obstructionism, and might allow them to run roughshod over the other half of the electorate that disagrees with their approach. Obviously President Obama and his supporters hope the country will instead choose to re-elect him, and increase his party's numbers in Congress. But regardless of those numbers, the president hopes that the Republicans will re-consider their obstructionist tactics after the election, and learn to work together to implement the shared vision the president was talking about in Cleveland.
I will work with anyone of any party who believes that we’re in this together -- who believes that we rise or fall as one nation and as one people.  Because I’m convinced that there are actually a lot of Republicans out there who may not agree with every one of my policies, but who still believe in a balanced, responsible approach to economic growth, and who remember the lessons of our history, and who don’t like the direction their leaders are taking them. . . . 
[W]hat’s lacking is not the capacity to meet our challenges.  What is lacking is our politics.  And that’s something entirely within your power to solve. 
I heard that some Obama supporters were disappointed with this speech. They want something more rousing, more partisan. They want a fight. What partisans--on both sides--fail to recognize is that we have a deeply divided electorate, and some of those deep divisions concern basic philosophical issues. Neither side is going to "win" that debate in the way they want to win it, because neither side is going to be able to persuade the other side of the correctness of their views. All either side can hope for is to gain a narrow majority, after which they will still have to deal with a deeply hostile opposition.

In my mediation practice, I see similar attitudes play out repeatedly. Both sides to a business conflict enter the room with deeply entrenched positions. They are both interested in vindicating those positions, and they both believe truth and justice are wholly on their side. And the only way to resolve those conflicts in a consensual way is to stop talking about positions and truth and justice, and instead start talking about how to solve a common problem. What attracted me to the Obama campaign back in 2007 was not his advocacy of a laundry list of policy positions (though his positions and mine are fairly compatible) but his commitment to a new kind of politics in which parties will recognize their shared goals and common interests. That vision is in tatters today--I would submit mainly because of the other side's complete rejection of the idea, but also because partisans on both sides are focused only on the truth and justice of their respective policy goals, and refuse to recognize that other voices in a democracy also must be recognized--but I was pleased to see that the president has not abandoned that vision.

As much as this year's election is about choosing between competing plans for our economic future, it is also about whether we can return to a shared vision of our political future. And that, as the president said, is entirely within our power to solve.



1 comment:

  1. << In my mediation practice, I see similar attitudes play out repeatedly. Both sides to a business conflict enter the room with deeply entrenched positions. They are both interested in vindicating those positions, and they both believe truth and justice are wholly on their side. And the only way to resolve those conflicts in a consensual way is to stop talking about positions and truth and justice, and instead start talking about how to solve a common problem. >>

    Love the way you wrote that Joe!

    ReplyDelete