Are real cross-party political conversations possible? (Revisited from 2012)

Four years ago, we were in the midst of an election cycle.  The candidates for President in 2012 (in case you've forgotten) were Barack Obama, the incumbent, and Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger. The conversation that year was pretty bleak, but here we are four years later and if anything the conversation has gotten even worse.  Below is what I wrote four years ago on this very day. I invite you to read and consider the current state of affairs.  I'm leaving it as is, so you can ignore the announcement for the conversation about my book Faith in the Public Square.  That being said, I do recommend reading the book, and what appears below! 


For the past few weeks my Monday posting has answered a political question offered by my publisher.  The intention was for a conservative voice to join me in a conversation or debate.  I didn't really like this described as a debate, because debates tend to separate rather than bring people together.  Although I am, according to a little Pew Research Quiz a radical left winger, I don't see myself in that way.  My own self-perception is of a person a bit left of center.  Back to the conversation with Elgin Hushbeck (at the time my conservative conversation partner) -- I found his answer over the top and decided I couldn't go further.  You can decide for yourself whether I over-reacted. In any case the conversation is on hiatus, but with the start of one party's national convention this week and politics on everyone's mind, I thought it worth devoting at least a little time to the conversation -- after all, on Wednesday evening I'm hosting a conversation on Faith in the Public Square that will include a book signing,

We bemoan the course partisanship that grips our nation.  It's doubtful that there ever was a time when the majority of the nation put aside partisanship, except perhaps during war-time.  And as Abraham Lincoln would tell you, even then there was little unanimity.  There was a time, not all that long ago, when the political parties weren't nearly as ideologically driven.  As recently as the 1960s the two parties had conservative and liberal wings, but by the 1980s this began to change.  Growing up in Oregon, the majority of Republican leaders, at least those who won statewide races, were moderate to liberal.  Mark Hatfield was as anti-war a Republican as there was, while Governor Tom McCall was a rather determined environmentalist.  Neither of these two would be welcome in the Republican Party today.  And of course, if you're a conservative Democrat like Bart Stupack of Michigan, you will have a hard time surviving.

But the issues that confront the nation today require cross-party cooperation.  They require conversations that will encourage new solutions not status quo.  Take the issue of Social Security, for instance.  The idea of privatizing it sounds good at one level, but as we all know, the vagaries of the market can put people at risk. I'm fortunate that as a participant in the Disciples Pension Plan, I will have a defined benefit package not a defined contribution package.  I will know what my minimum is.  So as far as defining benefits, Social Security won't be secure if it depends on market forces -- therefore I stand squarely with Democrats on this issue.  At the same time we need to face the fact that we have an aging population, and except for immigration would have a declining workforce, thus a greater burden is placed on this smaller workforce to sustain this larger number of retirees depending on Social Security.  We can increase the payroll tax but that puts an unfair burden on those who are working today.  Thus, raising the retirement age makes sense.  Remember that when age 65 was put in place most Americans didn't live that long.  Now we're living well past 80 (on average).  So, something has to happen and if both parties would talk they could get something done.

So, how do we bridge the gap?  How do we start the conversation?  And just as a reminder, some conversation has start soon, because looming in front of us are huge budget cuts and ending of the Bush Tax Cuts.  Taken together, whoever wins the election, if these aren't dealt with in a responsible manner, we'll have major economic problems.  So, as Rodney King once said?  "Why can't we all get along?"  

Perhaps we should all go back to Kindergarten!!


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