I was listening to “Vermont Edition” yesterday on VPR and the program was a panel response to the 3rd Democratic debates. The panel was comprised of a Dartmouth professor, a Middlebury professor, a Norwich professor, and Bob Kinzel from VPR.
I picked up on a couple of points that resonated with me. One was made by the Dartmouth professor when she spoke about the country being in a period of very low trust of government. She added that it is a big challenge to add to government programs and services like the health care proposals during periods of low trust in government.
I think she is right. Any programs or laws written that are transformational like a health care proposal or a tax overhaul that are not passed with bipartisan support are doomed from the beginning. I cannot understand why our Congress does not get this. I always say, “Set the table first. Build receptivity, and then write your law.” This does not happen today, and it only adds to the bitter divisions in our politics. It is really rule by political bullies, and we need to end it.
The other discussion that caught my attention came at the very end of the program, and it had to do with the need for a “very good explainer.” The suggestion was made that Elizabeth Warren is a “very good explainer.”
I will get to both of these take aways. First, I will share some ideas on the problem of low trust.
In my opinion, the low trust problem is the result of hyper partisanship. The two parties do not trust each other. They do not have personal relationships and friendships across the aisle like they used to. They consider compromise as a sign of weakness. I will always go back to Newt Gingrich when this topic comes up. He transformed American politics into a trench war with no prisoners to be taken. Mitch McConnell has made a living with hyper partisanship. He has made no secret that this is what drives and motivates him every day. The two parties have added to this bitter warfare with way they have written rules for how Congress operates. Forget any images of floor debates and exchange of ideas. Congress is just a place where party rule is recognized and legitimized.
It has only gotten worse with political action committees and special interest groups getting a green light from the Supreme Court in Citizens United to bring unprecedented levels of bitter politics to our tables. I see hyper partisans on both sides as people with closed minds and no tolerance for dialogue or compromise. They are plain and simple, a curse to be avoided.
The second piece that caught my attention is the notion of a good explainer. Boy, do we need good honest explainers. Our lives continue to spiral towards higher levels of complexity. The choices are difficult to discern, and then to evaluate as well. We need leaders that can explain the issues in simple and clear language that all Americans can understand. And then listen to our feedback, trust us, and do some more explaining if needed.
I work in education and I see over and over communications that come from the Agency of Education that are written by bureaucrats, and for an audience of bureaucrats. It is almost like people writing policy for the person in the cubicle next to them and not for the public. There is a constant push for ever more policy. Hey, folks, we are filling the world with these damn three-ring binders full of jack ass policy. You do not add clarity, you only muddy the water over and over again. The justification is the “data says.” Well, the data is not human. It leaves the human side out of the equation. I say, “Horseshit.” Let some common sense guide the policy and the interests of the people paying the bills, and quit writing policy for bureaucrats, and by bureaucrats. The language is convoluted and confusing – what don’t you folks understand?
We need a leader that can listen, understand the issues, and ultimately the choices, and then explain them to all of us. I would hope then the “explainer” will have their ears to the ground to hear what we think. Communication is a feedback loop, not just somebody on the soap box telling everyone what they think. Explain, and listen, and then explain some more.
Then, maybe we will have some trust again in government, and maybe the chance to fix our health care system, steward the world we are living on, and get along with each other.