Finding Common Ground

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A government of and by the people necessarily demands compromise; without it, we cannot progress.

As a young Republican, I lament the last four years. The far-right, about which I have spoken extensively, has done nothing but polarize, tearing moderates to shreds and lambasting RINOs — conservatives who dare to shake hands with the other side. The House of Representatives is a circus, full of Republican ideologues who care little for pragmatism; the real “cooperators” sit across the aisle.

To those who think I’m betraying my party, I’m not: Democrats are just as bad when it comes to digging political trenches.

Of the 52 Democratic senators (not including Lieberman and Sanders) who served in the 112th U.S. Congress, 42 voted with their party more than 92% of the time; the ‘highest’ Republicans clocked in at 92%. To put things in perspective, of the 48 Republicans who served, 13 (27%) voted with their party 90% of the time or more. Compared to the 48 Democrats (92.3%) who did so, the GOP seems a bastion of compromise.

To be clear, partisanship in and of itself is natural; identifying as a Republican means you will inevitably vote with your party more often than not. That said, refusing to work with Obama on, well, pretty much anything, is unacceptable.

I don’t wish to single out one party or the other; both have done their fair share of damage. Rather, I want to draw attention to the death of compromise in American politics, a catastrophic ‘event’ precipitated by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Partisanship and politics go hand-in-hand, feeding one another like oxygen feeds the flame. Together, they will destroy us; just as we lose control of wildfires, so too will we lose control of government, crippled by seemingly insurmountable divides. That is, unless we do something.

The Common Ground Donor Network (CGDN) is one of many projects seeking to bridge the Republican-Democrat divide and inspire meaningful dialogue in the political sphere. The CGDN’s focal point is an annual conference of American philanthropists, where givers from across the political spectrum can break bread and find common ground on pressing issues. According to the group’s website:

The event will showcase: 1) examples of donors who are political opponents yet who collaborate effectively, 2) successful projects that are based on multi-sector collaboration and consensus-building work, and 3) promising bridge-building initiatives that can be brought to scale with support from the donor community. Issues of focus will range from social to cultural to economic, often in the public policy realm.

The goals of this conference are threefold: first, attendees should learn something that influences their giving; second, they should learn how to better interact with their families and bridge political divides at the dinner table; and third, they should leave ready to improve the decision-making process in Washington.

CGDN says it best:

We believe that to resolve many of the biggest problems facing the country donors need to work cooperatively with those who have divergent points of view. Real collaboration does not compromise deeply held values or produce weak ideas that excite no one; real collaboration usually unleashes creativity and generates new possibilities. The philanthropic community, a group dedicated to innovation and learning, would seem hungry for new and better approaches to addressing issues. Our Common Ground Donor Network (CGDN) will give donors the opportunity to cross divides and make a difference by creating new solutions through dialogue. At the same time, by participating in the projects of the network, donors will learn how to bring collaborative practices to their own institutions, families, and fields of interest.

Without discussion, our views fossilize; we never hear directly from the other side, and when we do, we don’t know how to listen. The CGDN aims to give philanthropists — who have an incredible opportunity to effect change — the chance to discuss issues with their detractors. Will we all agree? No. Will we better understand one another and find common ground? That’s the hope.

I bring up Common Ground because it addresses a level of partisanship we rarely ponder — that of individuals. We elected our representatives, plain and simple. Don’t forget that: the death of compromise isn’t a ‘Washington’ problem, but a voter problem. We have no one to blame but ourselves; this mess lies at our feet.

Call me naïve, but I think the age of ‘mavericks’ will return. The United States, let alone our government, cannot withstand perpetual gridlock; at the end of the day, most voters do not respond positively to government shutdowns and partisan bickering. That said, we lit this fire, not our representatives. The Ted Cruzes and Barack Obamas of the world may well fan the flames, but America struck the match. By electing partisan hacks on both sides of the aisle, we are digging our own grave.

I call myself a moderate Republican for a reason: I will not tolerate senseless partisanship. Though not a solution in and of itself, the CGDN is a piece of the puzzle, and in this day and age, worth its weight in gold.

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