The polls say we want our leaders to produce environmentally sensible and fiscally responsible solutions for our crumbling infrastructure, and a health system that fosters innovation and provides a safety net for those that need one.
Polls say we want a tax code that is simple to understand and equally meted out, and an immigration system that is true to the timeless values on which our nation was built, and one that is rational and compassionate.
And we’d like it now.
As political science professors will tell you, the founders set up a system that makes solving these problems hard work. Even with surpluses, public support and political will, results that make it to the Oval Office take backbreaking work. For them to last, they take compromise and continued effort.
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How can we reach considered compromise? Let’s start with how not: labeling the ascendant party as illegitimate. Pledging, even before the new government assumes control, to fight it.
We’ve seen this movie. And it was my party doing it. Pledging to fight. Promising to expose the supposed fraud. Taking their ball and going home.
This resulted in one-sided legislation that failed to capture the best ideas on the table. Locking out the minority party from the process sowed the seeds for the political battle about the legitimacy of the law. It certainly precluded bipartisan fixes to massive packages that had obvious shortcomings. It helps to remember that the Social Security Act was amended within four years of a presidential signature.
Legislating is, ultimately, about counting votes. But those who have done the counting know you have to grow those votes so they are ready to be counted.
You grow the vote by casting as wide a net as possible, involving people who want to participate in good faith, and looking for ways to bridge differences. You align where you can agree. Some call it, cynically, the illusion of inclusion. But it is no illusion when you are in the room working the issues, looking for areas of compromise.
You don’t do that with people who don’t want to participate, the ones who rely on press releases and hot takes to score cheap points. Those points are fleeting. Legislative text in a House and Senate conference meeting is for about as forever as things get in D.C.
Legislating in the last eight years has shown the results of inclusion, illusion or not, and antagonism.
Antagonism has led to the delegitimizing of the laws in spawned. One side of the aisle too scared to review the potential shortcomings and the other too focused on tossing in the trash and starting over.
Yet no one is looking to replace the repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate, an important but arcane plan to rein in health care costs, which had confounded Congress for years. Nor are they looking to upend the deal to amend the renewable tax credit extension for oil exporting, which will aid the oil and renewable energy industries, or replace the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reformed No Child Left Behind. Republicans and Democrats were in the room, talking to, not over, one another.
In Washington, after you get that dog for your true friend, nothing is more true than the adage that you are either at the table or on the menu.
For California to lead, it must be at the table. Shared growth and benefits will fall flat until others understand and adopt the spirit behind them to fit their needs for their own benefit.
And no one is going to listen to good things you’re doing if you’re too busy sticking a finger in their eye and calling them names.
John Russell IV is a lobbyist and principal at Dentons and a former congressional leadership staffer in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.