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Sender: Bruce Schuman
Subject: Politics in the blender
Date: Fri, Aug 22, 2014
Msg: 101134

Great op-ed in the New York Times today, with this graphic

Breaking out of the Party Box - by Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute ?emc=edit_ty_20140819 &nl=opinion&nlid=50312942

FOR years, conservative politicians have been charged with indifference toward the plight of the poor and vulnerable. Republicans are accused of caring more about hedge fund managers than people who trim hedges, and when pollsters ask questions like "Who cares more about people like you?," Democrats consistently come out on top. The George Washington University political scientist Danny Hayes has found that Americans, by significant margins, believe that empathy and compassion are traits "owned" by Democrats.

Most Republicans acknowledge this, but many just shrug. Maybe they don't win on empathy and compassion, they'll concede, but they have a lock on some other traits. Research by Mr. Hayes shows that most voters instinctively associate morality and strong leadership with the political right.

Based on the premise that political success comes from doubling down on natural strengths, many Republicans conclude that the way to win is to be redder than red: They emphasize strength and moral uprightness and forget about the soft stuff. Similarly, many Democrats fixate on empathy and compassion and neglect the rest.

This explains our current depressing political stalemate. Congressional ratings are at historic lows - with 15 percent of Americans approving of their performance, members of Congress hold a position in the public esteem that is somewhere between that of Vladimir V. Putin and a case of head lice. This is not based on policy complaints as much as the fact that our leaders' moral repertory has all the nuance of a one-keyed piano. Americans don't want to choose between compassion and morality, or between leadership and empathy. We want leaders who have all these traits.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously declared that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Compassion and strong leadership are not even opposed - yet these days, they can't seem to be held in the same political mind. What a sad commentary on our times.

But in this dreary stalemate lies a tremendous opportunity. Mr. Hayes's research shows that Americans love a leader who throws out the usual script and trespasses on traits that traditionally belong to the other side. Combing through decades of data, he finds that on average, if voters rate two candidates as equally strong leaders (meaning the Democrat has erased his party's usual deficit on this trait), they break roughly 60 percent to 40 percent in favor of the Democrats. Conversely, among voters who rate a Republican candidate and a Democratic one as equally empathetic, the G.O.P. wins with about 65 percent. Voters reward candidates who go after unconventional traits.

This brings us to the high-profile anti-poverty initiatives from trait-trespassing Republicans such as Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Paul D. Ryan. Mr. Ryan's new anti-poverty plan, for example, features an expansion of the earned-income tax credit for childless workers - an outstanding idea that Democrats have favored for decades. The Washington Post declared the plan "so bipartisan it doesn't sound like he's running in 2016," supposing that Mr. Ryan's proposal might even jeopardize his chances with the Republican base.

While we wouldn't want or expect Democrats to rubber-stamp any Republican plan, we might reasonably expect that they would welcome the development, not treat it as a threat. After all, doesn't this mean there is finally real hope for a bit of bipartisan progress in helping our most vulnerable citizens?

Obviously, I was born yesterday. Mere hours after Mr. Ryan's speech at the American Enterprise Institute announcing the plan, attacks began. The influential progressive blog Think Progress quickly posted a series of pieces dismissing Mr. Ryan's plan out of hand. "While Ryan is trying out new rhetoric around the issue of poverty," they wrote, his plan "is full of the same empty promises he's been making for years." Other progressive pundits followed suit, some appearing more eager to silence Mr. Ryan than to build a compromise that would help the poor.

Rather than trying to chase this Republican interloper off their compassion turf, liberals could instead use the same technique and adopt some typically conservative traits. Openly discussing personal morality and extolling strong leadership in foreign affairs would help Democrats appeal to more voters and poach from the Republican base.

Scrambling the conventional categories would not merely shift electoral dynamics. It would improve our country. More trait-trespassing politicians would give all citizens the competition of ideas we deserve. Because of the lack of overlapping values between the parties today, most people have effectively one choice when it comes time to vote. Often, we just hold our noses and pull the lever. That makes politics about as edifying as shopping at a Soviet-era supermarket. Wouldn't we all like some choice?

With a little work, maybe we can make our politics into more of a contest between virtuous adversaries.

For once, voters would be the winners.

Arthur C. Brooks is a contributing opinion writer and the president of the American Enterprise Institute.

Bruce Schuman




(805) 966-9515, PO Box 23346, Santa Barbara CA 93101

From: List for transpartisan leaders and innovators [mailto:TRANSPARTISAN@LISTS.THATAWAY.ORG] On Behalf Of Steven H Johnson Sent: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 5:49 AM To: TRANSPARTISAN@LISTS.THATAWAY.ORG Subject: [TRANSPARTISAN] More thoughts re clarity first

I want to sound three cautionary notes.

First, our political culture suffers on both sides from a lack of substantive rigor. We test ideas for whether they're fashionable but not for whether they're founded on genuine substance. I saw this up close when I dug into the Social Security issue in the late Clinton years, when it was up for discussion. What I discovered was depressing. Conservatives were substantively wrong about the promise of Independent Retirement Accounts. Cato's most ambitious projections would have created a hypothetical pool of capital so large that the entire U.S. stock market would have been swallowed five or ten times over. Liberals were substantively wrong about Social Security's general good health. Social Security's actuaries use a sophisticated tool called actuarial balance that gives everyone the feeling that it's a reliable solvency yardstick. In fact, it's an asset depletion yardstick, not an asset preservation yardstick, and none of the arguments based on its use could have led Social Security to genuine solvency.

This isn't an isolated instance; fashionable thinking is a much stronger norm than substantive investigation. For both the Left and the Right. But it would be a mistake to do Transpartisan dialogue without first making a commitment to substantive reasoning, and following it wherever it leads, however unfashionable its discoveries might turn out to be.

Second, I think there needs to be a shared commitment, going in, to a spirit of shared responsibility for America's long run best interests. My way of encapsulating that is to say that all of us, as members of the citizenry, share three broad responsibilities - for the vitality of America's commerce, for the health of America's enduring assets, and for the wisdom of America's laws. Tax options touch on all three. I think any dialogue will work better if all three responsibilities are used as a shared touchstone.

Third, with respect to the carbon tax idea in particular, I sense that some on this listserv imagine that carbon taxes, if adopted, could last forever. And, since they'd be expected to go on forever, one could properly view them as a plausible alternative for payroll taxes, say, or for corporate taxes. This is a view that has to be tested for its substantive validity before it becomes a guiding principle of such a dialogue.

Here's the substantive logic that the threat of dangerous climate change imposes on us. If climate change and ocean acidification are to be halted, the atmospheric stock of carbon dioxide has to be capped at the lowest feasible level. And for total CO2 to be capped, the consumption of fossil fuels will have to come to an end. For the consumption of fossil fuels to end, the world will have to replace all its technologies that burn fossil fuel with new energy technologies that don't.

As Elon Musk likes to point out, humanity will end up making that shift someday, no matter what, since fossil fuels are finite. Make that shift now, rather than two hundred years from now, and we'll have a much more tractable climate and much healthier oceans.

Given all that, the wise view of carbon taxes is that they can be valuable but that the revenues they generate are to be temporary, not permanent. Were carbon revenues to be viewed as permanent, we'd end up locking ourselves into the consumption of fossil fuels just when we should be getting rid of them.

Bottom line - investigating options is a good exercise, if done in a context of shared responsibility and with a commitment to substantive validity. Otherwise we face the risk of a too-hasty solution and a transpartisan failure.

Steve Johnson

Steven Howard Johnson - Civic Futurist


Book in Progress: Thoughtful Patriotism


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