Monday, February 6, 2012
Cures for toxicity
By Bill Kraus
A longtime supporter suggested to a legislator that his ambition for higher office could be advanced if the legislator joined forces with a Republican who shares his views on the legislator’s favorite issue and has offered to join the effort to help do great things for Wisconsin.
“Remember who your friends are," the legislator replied to his now-former supporter.
A politically active Democrat whose day job would be advanced if the Legislature acted on a significant and difficult bill was advised to lay low on political activity until the bill is passed.
The watering holes where legislators of all persuasions, administrators, and even reporters once spent their “off the record” off hours together are gone, strictly segregated along political lines, or too toxic for one side or the other to consider patronizing.
A major health institution which is putting together a plan to increase health care coverage and reduce health care costs was told that the enabling legislation for this worthy idea would have a better chance getting through what has become the Capitol war zone if the institution and its members reduced their political profile and activity.
Speaking of war zones, one legislator says he will not feel safe in the hallowed halls of the state Assembly unless armed. Surely this is an isolated view. Or not.
Is it any wonder that as the level of contentiousness rises the sane and sensible citizens who are alleged to be the object of the affections of their representatives are disgusted, which is bad, and being advised to absent themselves from the public arena, which is worse?
Representative government is increasingly a closed shop and in a shambles.
Is there no hope for assembling representatives of diverse views from different places who think they are elected to make this a better place for all of us and are willing to work together through their inevitable differences to deliver what the people want: a government that works?
Only if they get out of their trenches, fox holes and silos. Only if they give themselves a chance to get to know one another so they can discover that in many ways, despite their differences, they are more alike than different.
Not until it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable, where it is possible to dislike ideas without despising the people who have them.
There are three things going on which seem to me to have de-toxifying potential.
The first is memorial services. This is a somewhat morbid way to bring people together; also unpredictable; also unwelcome. It is evident though that when a politician passes and the survivors and successors come together to praise and mourn the dear departed that they mingle and even enjoy each other’s company. There is hope. Maybe they don’t hate each other full time after all.
Another less maudlin movement is an embryonic attempt to resuscitate something known as the Special Edition dinner where all the denizens of the public sector gathered to honor one of their own for succeeding in the arena they all occupy. Food and drink and fun were reliable ice breakers before and may be again.
A more notable, successful, and long running de-toxifier is headed by two remarkable women who run a series of seminars where the warring incumbents can come together with professionals and experts to dissect and discuss objective, quality research on the subjects on the public agenda. The objective, which is routinely met, is to get to the facts and away from the ideologies in search of the common ground from which solutions spring.
The question is can we get together before toxicity pulls us ever further apart?
Only if we start with mutual respect and civility and keep all eyes on the problem not the process or the people advancing the solutions.
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Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board
Posted by Common Cause in Wisconsin at 7:28 AM