The secrecy surrounding the creation of the Republican healthcare bill is the most recent example of growing resentment and partisanship. In a democracy that prides itself on transparency, deciding healthcare for millions behind closed doors should make all Americans question the current political climate. In Washington, and across the United States, polarization has replaced compromise with obstruction, and both parties are guilty.
The fight over health care has highlighted one important fact: for American institutions to effectively serve the American people, a culture of compromise needs to find its way into Washington.
After all, the foundational principle of a democracy is the possibility for open debate and compromise so that all interests are represented equally. The move by Republican senators to create the health care bill in secrecy not only undermines democratic principles, but it also undermines the effectiveness of the bill .
If Republicans forcefully pass their version of health care, that does not fix the problem of implementing lasting health care reform. Democrats will feel morally obligated to “repeal and replace” a Republican health care plan once Democrats gain control of Congress. This cycle of forceful passage and obstruction does no good for Americans who are suffering and need health care to survive.
The fight over health care demonstrates that compromise is a necessary prerequisite for lasting reform. Without the bipartisan support of a majority of political interests, no legislation can survive the test of time and serve Americans effectively.
The real question is: how do we create a culture of compromise that guides policymaking in Washington.
For those who are tired of seeking answers in Washington, the answer should provide some hope. This culture of compromise can only develop at the grassroots level, it begins with the American people.
At UC Berkeley, I have been working with BridgeUSA, an organization attempting to bridge the political divide, to facilitate discussions on controversial political issues between conservative and liberal students. UC Berkeley seems like an unlikely place for a culture of compromise to exist, but I have seen the success of organizations like BridgeUSA firsthand as they bring students who vehemently disagree on an issue together to find common ground and understand each other’s decision making processes.
For example, in a heated discussion on the Travel Ban and terrorism, conservative and liberal students were asked to propose a solution that would appease both sides of the aisle and a solution with majority consensus was reached. If a group of strong minded ideologues can engage in dialogue and propose a bipartisan solution, a culture of compromise in Washington is certainly a possibility.
The model that BridgeUSA implemented at UC Berkeley can be applied to communities across the country. Whether the topic is health care or gun control, it is important to create a prominent culture of discussion and productive dialogue between opposing political perspectives. Rather than being foreclosed to listening to the other side, opposing ideas should be welcomed as debate is the bedrock of our democracy.
Once the prevailing culture in American politics becomes to listen and to engage in productive dialogue with the other side, the possibility for finding common ground on legislation such as health care will become a realistic expectation.
There is evidence that prevailing political attitudes can trickle up to Washington D.C. In 2008, the Tea Party gained traction in Congress because some Republican politicians realized that their constituents preferred to block President Obama’s agenda. And obstructing President Obama’s policies turned out to be a very effective method for getting reelected. Currently, certain Democratic politicians are comfortable resisting Republican legislation because their constituents are calling for resistance. Lawmakers do respond to constituents if constituents make their voices heard because the motivating incentive of policymakers is to get elected and stay in office.
As the United States faces a health care crisis, political disunity only serves to thwart the efficacy of American policymaking. The urgency for health care reform is unquestionable, yet political infighting stalls progress. The political culture needs to be reformed so that policymakers place the interest of Americans above the interest of their party.
In the short term, the idea of talking to someone you disagree with sounds like the cause of a headache. It appears naive that the solution to political gridlock can be as simple as facilitating discussions between opposing political viewpoints. However, the alternative of staying within our ideological bubbles is much worse. Look no further than the fight over health care for proof.