Whoever said talk is cheap wasn't referring to the critical role that conscientious citizens play in a democracy. With so many Americans feeling a sense of frustration and disconnection with our political process, now, more than ever, we must engage one another in serious conversation and civil debate to help find solutions to the issues that fragment our country.
As a fifth generation Rockefeller, my family has a long history of government service. While I've never been interested in running for office, I've always been enthralled by our political system and its elected representatives. I am a lifelong member of the GOP, but I'm neither a conservative nor a champion of the extremist faction of the party. Due to our internal divisiveness and external combativeness, I've actually become what I call a RITO -- a Republican In Tradition Only.
We used to be a problem-solving party that was fiscally disciplined, fully accountable, more open-minded on social issues, and willing to compromise in order to get things done. But over the past two decades, that kind of commonsensical approach has so thoroughly evaporated that the "party of the people" has become almost unrecognizable. Instead of a populist coalition willing to reach across the aisle to get things done, the GOP is viewed more as an oppositional, inflexible political party.
Today, as a number of Republican presidential candidates dominate the national debate with inflammatory, polarizing positions, many voters feel alienated on major domestic issues, and more reasonable GOP supporters worry that if we don't change our course during this election, we're on the verge of becoming a nationally irrelevant party for generations to come. So who will provide us with a healthy alternative to this steady diet of rhetoric and intransigence?
To help introduce a new and improved regimen, I'm proposing to invite 10 prominent politicians to an informal dinner:
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Democrats, Republicans, independents. Senators, governors, Secretary of State, ambassador, mayors. Conservatives, liberals and moderates.
One would imagine, based on the guests' respective party affiliations and individual positions, that any conversation about politics will be extremely contentious and that rational, constructive discourse will be not only unlikely but perhaps next to impossible.
However, as host, I've set some ground rules. First, there will be no media or cellphones, ensuring that the conversation remains strictly private. Second, there will be no interruptions or raising voices; exchanges will be civil and respectful. Third, they will be seated at a round table, and each attendee will sit next to someone from the other party or an independent.
The group will answer two sets of six questions. In this round, there will be no discussion of political issues. The goal is simple: to recognize each other's basic humanity.
These appetizers are our icebreakers:
- Where did you grow up?
The second set of questions is our main course. Going around the table, everyone will have up to two minutes to answer, and there will be no interruptions or crosstalk, so no one steers off subject or tries to get in the last word. During this round, I will be chronicling their responses but won't attach a name to anything that's said.
- What do we have in common?
When everyone has finished his or her turn at all six questions, I'll assemble their anonymous answers into one cohesive document.
I will then make this document public on PracticallyRepublican.com, along with the names of those who attended, in the hope that these exchanges can act as a template for honest, nonpartisan, issue-oriented deliberations and become a new paradigm for the practice of functional, effective governing.
Most importantly, concerned citizens across the country who identify as Republicans should participate in these same purposeful conversations --first among ourselves, and then with Democrats. Perhaps even use the aforementioned rules and questions. If we can look back at what once made us the party of the people and move ahead with a pragmatic, forward-thinking model, we will bring the best of our hearts and minds to politics again, guided by the mandate of doing what's best for the country.
Agreements. Things in common. Mutual interests. Shared causes. Helping each other.
That's our menu, and everyone is invited to the table. Let's Talk.