Third Way Perspectives

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Archive for January, 2012

Plight of the Republican Presidential Race’s Zombie Candidates

January 19th, 2012

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This piece first appeared in The Daily Beast.

“We want Matt! We want Matt!” The first (and likely last) time a crowd has chanted my name, I was barricaded inside a hotel suite with the rest of the senior staff of Wes Clark’s presidential campaign. It was Feb. 10, 2004, the night of the Tennessee and Virginia primaries, and Clark had suggested (but not confirmed) that he would end his campaign if he failed to win either one.

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A civil action for SOTU

January 19th, 2012

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This piece originally appeared in Politico.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) have 28 years of Capitol Hill experience between them. Yet when these two supercommittee co-chairmen sat down for the panel’s opening meeting, it was the first time they ever met. Is it any wonder that the committee failed?

Third Way last week proposed three modest ideas based on a simple premise: Strangers make terrible legislators. We sent a letter to House and Senate congressional leaders, calling for concrete steps to improve civility, familiarity and discourse between members of opposing — and often warring — political parties. It’s an attempt to find an elixir to the poisonous atmosphere that has made Congress a non-functioning laughingstock.

The first idea is a repeat of a proposal we made last year, on the heels of the senseless shooting of Rep. Gabriel Giffords (D-Ariz.) and the deaths of six of her constituents. We again ask that Congress members sit together rather than in partisan enclaves during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address on Jan. 24.

Why do it again? For one, the spectacle of half the room leaping to its feet while the other sits glumly on its hands is just that – a spectacle. This one day, when the entire nation sits and listens to their president, Congress should appear as one body — not two sides.

This was a success last year. With the help of Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), more than 100 years of tradition was broken as members sat together during Obama’s address. There were surprising pairings, like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) kibitzing with the ultra-conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Several legislators – including Coburn – began relationships and partnerships with members of the opposing party whom they had routinely ignored.

For the public, the State of the Union became a more civil and adult affair, absent the “you lie” shouts and the whack-a-mole quality, where members popped up and down on cue to register approval or disapproval of the president’s remarks.

Second, we ask for a smack talk ceasefire. For 24 hours leading up to the State of the Union, we ask that members of Congress, the president, candidates, and super-PACs speak only about the merits of their ideas — not the demerits of the opposing party’s ideas.

We’re not saying that parties and politicians shouldn’t disagree. We merely ask that for one day out of 366, this disagreement be voiced solely by making the positive case for one’s own ideas.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on the best ideas. For a day, instead of concentrating on the best attack line – let’s listen to the other side’s case. It may make for fewer fireworks on cable broadcasts, but it will likely ensure a more informed electorate.

Third, we suggest that the House and Senate each reserve one weekend every year where members of Congress and their families spend time together and get to know one another. In 1787, Americans with great regional differences and viewpoints gathered for four months and created a blueprint for the nation. Congress ought to emulate this common love of nation to come together as fellow citizens and form the personal bonds necessary to cooperate with those of other viewpoints.

A retreat won’t make disagreements melt away, but it’s harder to vilify and objectify those you know. Our legislative process could only become better as we learn more, and listen more attentively, to those we have chosen to spar.

The United States faces immense challenges. Our budget deficit is huge. Our economy is sputtering. Our competitors are gaining on us. Our middle class is shrinking. Our entitlements are growing. Our tax code is failing. It is hard to imagine a group of bickering strangers solving America’s most pressing problems.

For the past several decades, the rancor and partisanship in Washington seems to get worse as the need for our government to function better increases. In the meantime, Americans ‘views of Congress hit new lows.

Our modest proposal: Sit together, not apart. Talk to each other, don’t yell. Know each other, don’t be strangers.

Jon Cowan is president and Jim Kessler is senior vice president of Third Way. other, don’t be strangers.

Happiness is Divided Opposition

January 11th, 2012

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This piece originally appeared in Politico.

Happiness in politics is a divided opposition.

That’s what Confucius would say if he were around to analyze the race for the Republican nomination. Jon Huntsman is probably saying it in Chinese.

By that standard, the happiest person around is Mitt Romney. He’s coasting to the Republican nomination on the strength of a divided opposition. In the Gallup tracking poll, only 30% of Republicans nationwide say Romney’s their choice. But look at the rest of the field: Newt Gingrich 18%, Rick Santorum 17%, Ron Paul 12%, Rick Perry and John Huntsman in single digits.

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Election Offers Opportunity

January 10th, 2012

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This piece was originally posted in National Journal

This year’s election is an opportunity to ditch the snake oil and talk straight to voters about gas prices, an issue which keeps taking a bigger bite out of Americans’ budgets. After a decade of hearing about short-term solutions that are only as good as the last price on the gas station sign, the driving public is ready for something different; putting us on the path for a real choice in the fuels we use offers that.

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