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Overcoming Political Gridlock
in the news: Seems lots of people have been talking about the inability of the USA government to get anything done due to the wide gulf separating Democrats and Republicans. Major magazines (e.g., Time March 1 2010 edition, The Economist Feb 20-26 2010 edition) have run cover stories about the problem. Time's Peter Beinart in Why Washington is Tied Up in Knots has three suggestions to overcome the gridlock: 1)"[allow] independents to vote not only in presidential primaries but in congressional ones," 2) "create new talk shows and blogs in which liberals and conservatives interrogate one another's views," and 3) [encourage] "cranky independent candidates determined to punish both parties for not getting anything done."
commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org):
I generally like these ideas. The second one is about promoting dialogue. Common sense suggests that unless opposing sides talk to each other, they can't resolve differences. Politics has been called the art of compromise. In governments where political parties are rather evenly matched in terms of numbers of elected representatives, finding common ground is critical if the people's business is to get done. How can the political landscape in the USA be changed so that extreme partisanship diminishes and prospects for bi-partisan accord grows?
I think implementing Beinart's first suggestion is a step in the right direction. Open primaries will give more decision-making power to moderates, middle of the roaders, or middle of the bell-curvers. Often primary elections (especially those with low turnout) to choose a party's candidates are determined by extremists--right wing or left wing, but nonetheless the outliers in a bell curve. Bring a collection of today's American political leaders together--these folks often elected by outliers--and you can imagine the big hump in the middle of a bell curve (representing moderates) is gone. Flip over what you're imagining, draw a line between the two groups of extremists, and note the big gulf that you're trying to bridge! With fewer party extremists and more independents involved in decision making, the gulf would be smaller.
Of course, following the middle of the roaders could be the wrong course. Critical to the survival of any democracy is producing an informed and intelligent electorate. Hopefully, all who value democracy--politicians and voters--recognize the importance of "Education for Democracy" (Project Worldview theme #31) in this regard.
Speaking of worldviews, consider the worldview themes that are important with respect to being able (or unable) to compromise. I've listed those I consider important in the table below. Of these, perhaps most important is "The Attitudinal Fix Mentality." It is all about problem solving by changing attitudes and associated behaviors, typically by educating and changing minds. Who are the people who might be receptive to this? I could assert that they possess some humility--but instead I'll say they are provisional. By this I mean they are characterized by an open-minded, tentative attitude that indicates willingness to consider various viewpoints, be persuaded by reasonable arguments, and to tolerate differences. They are often able to put aside what they have emotionally invested in, and put themselves in their opponents shoes. Empathizing with someone is a key step toward putting aside differences and co-operating.
Those leading efforts to find compromises typically start with initiating or improving dialogue. The goal is to foster a climate in which the disputants find bridge values—shared values representing common ground a settlement can be built on, or bridging the gulf of misunderstanding. Those good at leading the way to compromise possess a sense of fair play, good interpersonal communication skills, and emotional intelligence. All this makes them are well equipped to facilitate, mediate, arbitrate, and resolve conflict. These kinds of people are the key to overcoming political gridlock.
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