This past week, in Columbus, Ohio, residents convened at a local public library to converse civilly about how to get the federal budget on a sustainable path. Meanwhile, the bickering of our nation's leaders led to nonsensical slashes to the budget that affect everything from cancer research to our national security.
Perhaps our leaders have something to learn from their constituents.
We've seen scenarios like the Columbus forum play out repeatedly across the country: everyday citizens, from diverse walks of life, get together, talk through their differences in a civil manner, face up to the tradeoffs inherent in any option, and build common ground on the essential ingredients for addressing the debt.
This is not to say that the process is easy. It requires a lot of thought and planning. Optimally, such a process should be facilitated by trained moderators and use nonpartisan discussion materials.
Participants and moderators must also understand that common ground doesn't necessarily mean consensus, and they must agree that compromise is not a dirty word.
The fact is, we're going to have to forge a path forward, regardless of our differences. In all likelihood, this means that we will have to make some concessions, and many will not be 100 percent happy with the outcome. But we've seen many times, citizens understand that after talking it through, tradeoffs will be necessary and they are ok with that.
The question, then, is how to convey to our national leaders that their constituents are generally open to compromise. How do we encourage our leaders to thoughtfully consider various approaches to a problem and their tradeoffs? And how do we compel them to build enough common ground with each other and among their constituents that they can find a practical path forward? Obviously, what we're doing now isn't working.
These are questions that Public Agenda and other organizations struggle with regularly. There won't be an easy answer, but one approach is to accentuate the positive and publicize the people who are doing it right.
Are you interested in being one of those people? Organize a discussion in your community, school, organization or church. Use one of our Choicework discussion starters, designed to stimulate nonpartisan deliberation on complex issues, to frame the discussion. And let us know how it goes-we'll be happy to publicize your effort. Help us inspire our nation's leaders by being one of the people doing it right.