Last week, on June 29, Vail Symposium’s program with Mark Gerzon attracted 90 attendees to focus on the issues we as a country face with strong partisanship in our political dialogue. Interestingly, the audience was very evenly divided philosophically with 1/3 of the audience being Republican, 1/3 Democrat and 1/3 being Independent/other.
The inspiration for this program came from the Vail Symposium program in September that brought together the heads of the Republican and Democratic parties in Colorado, moderated by Governor Lamm. In that program, the two party heads agreed that the parties agree on about 70% of most issues. In Colorado, the state politicians tend to focus on the 70% and try to move the issues forward. In Washington, the federal politicians tend to focus on the 30% in order to get “gotchas” on the other party in the press, media and social media. Consequentially, little progress is made.
Last week the audience heard Mark Gerzon give an overview of the need and desire for more civility and listening to other points of view to focus on the love of country for moving forward. The Symposium had prepared ahead of time, with significant input from the local Republican and Democratic parties, multiple questions and responses focused on four key issues:
- Guns in School
- Climate Control
Every attendee had a clicker to define their choices. At the beginning, each issue was presented with choices of an extreme liberal solution, an extreme conservative solution, and Neither/Don’t have solution. Faced with these choices, the audience selected one of the extreme positions 68% of the time.
The next step included the same issues, but another series of choices were provided. The same extreme liberal and conservative choices remained, but two more were added that were more moderate liberal and moderate conservative choices. In this case, only 13% of the audience selected one of the extreme positions.
After significant open discussion, it was clear that the audience wanted more choices. Instead of the binary left/right choices that divide us into two opposing “sides,” a significant majority of the participants preferred four choices that included more nuanced, moderate alternatives.
Some felt that the public is significantly more moderate than are the representatives that get elected. Some blame the news media and social media as painting our congressional representative positions into the extremes without adequate coverage of the more moderate and fostering a view that is much more extreme than is, in reality, the case.
However, if the participants in this session were our congressional leaders, it is clear that they would move toward intermediate “problem-solving” positions. As a result, they would be much more likely to generate legislation that would move forward on many, if not all, of these issues.
Mark Gerzon has facilitated retreats with our congressional representatives and found that when they sit in a room and listen to each other they are willing to consider more moderate solutions, but that willingness seems to disappear in the reality of modern day politics. Mark stated the solution lies in the typical person taking some trans-partisan breaks: listen to news from the other side’s perspective; identify and support leaders that are trying to reunite America; join bridge building initiatives like no-labels or the Bridge Alliance and think about what is best for America.
If you’re interested in taking these learnings a step further, we encourage you to spread the word. Reach out to your senators and congressmen, like attendee Arlan Moore decided to do, and let them know what you think. If you live in Colorado, our senators are listed below; you can find your representatives by clicking here and entering your zip code. Write a letter to the local newspaper or get involved with groups that want to build communication.
Thank you for your attendance and for illustrating that, regardless of party identification, we do have more in common than we think.
Michael Bennet (D – CO)
261 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510