The need for common ground
During her post-Super Tuesday address to supporters in Florida, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We know we’ve got work to do, but that work is not going to make America great again. American never stopped being great. We have to make America whole.”
The hard truth for all presidential candidates, including GOP front-runner Donald Trump, is that to actually make America whole, they must first find common ground with political opponents. In a campaign bloated with one-liners, insults, and personal attacks, finding common ground is an unpopular theme among candidates vying for their party’s nomination.
But once elected president, finding commonalities with members of the opposing party in Congress will prove essential to the success of the next president.
When asked in a recent interview how to confront the national sentiment that government doesn’t work, Democratic presidential candidate Clinton suggests “Let’s try to find as much common ground as possible.”
“I’ve got to get up every day determined to find that common ground – to build that relationship. There is just no substitute for building relationships,” she continued.
History shows us that powerful, substantive change only comes with buy-in from both parties. Former president Bill Clinton (D) spent months in intense negotiation with Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) to create a bipartisan budget agreement. The deal – and the relationship – took constant work and a dedication to finding common ground.
The same is true for former president Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill. These two ideologically opposed politicians hammered out a deal to save Social Security. In an article by Thomas O’Neill, Tip O’Neill’s son, he remembers his father and President Reagan disagreeing about almost everything, but “what both men deplored more than the other’s political philosophy was a stalemate … there was a stronger commitment to getting things done.”
And though partisan posturing has pushed our country to the edge in the last few years, bipartisanship in Congress is not altogether dead. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray(D-Wash.) crafted a bipartisan budget deal, the foundation of which was built on a cross-party relationship and a search for, as Ryan stated, “common ground.” Working together was an implicit acknowledgement that solving the government’s budget crisis outweighed any consequence to the party.
Murray and Ryan brought a three-year budget battle to an end – and the country back from brink – by finding common ground, and deciding to get things done. In fact, building relationships and identifying shared goals in Congress is just about the only way to pass any successfully implemented, sustainable legislation.
There exists a certain level of tension between bipartisanship and survival in the primaries: Differences are accentuated to rally support and win the nomination. But at some point during the campaign, the role of “uniter” will be up for grabs, and the value of being seen as someone who can fulfill that role, and unite a broken nation, will only increase in value as the focus shifts from grievance to governance as November nears.
The candidate who shares a vision to best address this void is the candidate Americans should pay attention to. This vision to unite the nation must include substantive policy to address our nation’s biggest dilemmas. Job creation, Social Security and Medicare, the national debt, and energy security are among the country’s most urgent problems. These issues will not be solved by anyone – Republican or Democrat – without engaging the party across the aisle.
Research has shown that the way in which candidates campaign indicates how they will govern. We must be wary of candidates who insist on dividing the nation beyond repair, and support those looking for solutions, those willing to work together to get things done. In October on the campaign trail, Clinton said that “I’m a progressive, but a progressive that likes to get things done.” Our next president must possess capacity to unite both parties around shared goals to get things done. It has been done before – it must be done again.
Partisanship for the sake of partisanship is fruitless. The next president, and Congress, will have to push beyond partisan politics for the greater good of the nation, and create bipartisan solutions to fix what’s broken.
But first, common ground will have to make a comeback.