March 3, 2013

Some politicians strive to work together

Colin Read, Everybody's Business

— President Obama maintained the upper hand in the battle over sequestration. That is a real shame.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not picking sides. Actually, I think that Republicans need to address tax reform and be more willing to invest in our nation’s competitiveness, and Democrats need to address entitlement reform if we are to leave any sort of country for our children.

The shame is we judge the upper hand based on the cleverness of one’s politics rather than the nature of one’s insights. We applaud the “winners” who get ahead by marginalizing the “other side.” I would prefer we prize the Solomonic wisdom that can deal with complicated challenges.

I wish there were just one “side” — the side of a shared American future.

I don’t sense most Americans are interested in duking it out over political posturing. We just want sensible solutions that allow our country to maintain its role in the global economy. We want opportunities for our children that are at least as great as we enjoy.

To enable this future, we realize we have to be more sensible about government debt, and we realize the solution will be found on Main Street, not Wall Street or K Street.

And, we realize there can be good ideas from members of both sides.

It’s time to get away from labels and remember we all share certain inalienable ideals. While we may differ in the appropriate amount of income redistribution or the optimal level of government insurance against our misfortune or circumstances, there is much that we share.

You may have seen subtle orange pins worn by some members of Congress at the president’s State of the Union address. These are displayed by a centrist subset of members of the House and Senate who are willing to work across the aisle. They realize cooperation works better without demonization. They just might make a difference.

The No Labels coalition contains about 40 Representatives and half a dozen Senators. These are enough patriots to move both House and Senate in either direction should the rest of their colleagues choose to vote en bloc as their parties dictate.

Should the rest of Congress continue its paralysis, this group could make the biggest difference. They meet, they discuss issues and propose policies, and they remain open to new approaches. They harken back to a more pragmatic, collegial Washington when America was in its heyday and everything seemed possible.

They also believe in a premise understood by economists but seemingly forgotten by politicians. There really is such a thing as a win-win solution.

I believe we can cooperate to formulate solutions that benefit us all. We can succeed and discover a path for a better future if we agree there is no free lunch and we cannot get more out of this system than we put in.

These pragmatic No Label centrists can create the synergy that allows us to progress as a nation in an increasingly fast-paced world. Representatives Bill Owens and Chris Gibson are No Labelers and demonstrate Democrats and Republicans can work effectively together for the interests of our region.

I would take the idea even further. Maybe someday we can imagine a centrist party that has no labels that would constrain what policy changes they would be willing to consider. Candidates of a No Label coalition could perhaps be endorsed by the establishment of one party or another, but would not be beholden to party apparachiks. Elected representatives on a No Label platform should be permitted to caucus with other party members and each other, and should have access to the various committees that are ruled with the iron grip of majority party leaders.

Die-hard party supporters will unlikely appreciate the dilution of the power bestowed upon them in reward for loyalty to their party. But, most Americans who care about something larger than a political party may welcome this interjection into the body politic.

If we continue to judge based on who wins and loses, we all lose. Maybe if a more pragmatic and solution-oriented approach catches on, we can replace the upper hand and the backhand with Americans working hand in hand.

Colin Read contributes to and has published eight books with MacMillan Palgrave Press. He chairs the Department of Finance and Economics at SUNY Plattsburgh. Follow his tweets at @ColinRead2040.