Third Way Perspectives
Posts Tagged ‘State of the Union’
January 23rd, 2012
“The dialogue in Washington isn’t working for anyone—not Congress, not Americans, and not America. We urge the leaders of both houses of Congress to permanently retire partisan seating at the State of the Union.”
– Jon Cowan, President, Third Way
If you support YOUR Congress sitting together at the State of the Union – please contact your members of Congress to let them know where you stand (and they should sit) in 2012.
Last year, with the leadership of Senators Mark Udall and Lisa Murkowski, we helped to end more than a century of tradition and had members of Congress sit together during the President’s State of the Union address. After another year of partisan heartburn, we are renewing and expanding this request:
1) Sit together during the State of the Union and make mixed seating permanent. The spectacle of one side of the room leaping to its feet and the other sitting glumly on its hands is just that – a spectacle. Let’s end this running joke once and for all.
2) Agree to a 24-hour ceasefire. In the 24 hours leading up to the State of the Union, we ask that politicians and their campaigns speak only about the merits of their ideas, not the demerits of the opposing party’s ideas.the other sitting glumly on its hands is just that – a spectacle. Let’s end this running joke once and for all.
3) Spend a weekend together. We ask that Congress set aside one weekend each year to gather together and spend time getting to know each other.
In short, we’re asking for Congress to sit together, not apart. Talk to each other, don’t yell. Know each other, don’t be strangers.
Here are some of the ways that you can help:
Tweet your members of Congress using the hashtags #SitTogether and #24hrcivility. Call out egregious cases of incivility using the hashtag #24hrcivility.
3. Tell the Story
Write a blog post about why civility in Congress matters and send us the link to your work. We’ll compile posts and add your entry on our Storify page. Check out our interactive Sit Together Tumblr and encourage others to play on Facebook and Twitter.
January 19th, 2012
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.
January 27th, 2011
“This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” President Obama declared in his State of the Union speech Tuesday evening. Interesting metaphor. I was around for the launching of Sputnik in 1957. He wasn’t. Sputnik created a huge wave of shock and paranoia in the United States. The Soviets were beating us! We were losing the Space Race! And maybe the Cold War.
March 19th, 2010
This piece was originally published in National Journal.
The wild card in the 2010 midterm campaign is spending — specifically, unrestricted spending by corporations, trade groups, and labor unions. In its January decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court overturned part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law as well as one of its own precedents in order to allow private groups to spend freely on campaigns right up to Election Day.