President, Aging and Disability Policy and Leadership Consulting, LLC
In a time when this nation is so deeply divided and both the left and right see visions of ghosts and demons, there is a need for clear eyed people to look deeply at what is truly happening and act to ensure that hyperbole and rhetoric do not become the way.
As a so-called progressive, I am dismayed by what some in that sphere have been saying and doing. On Inauguration Day, a day to celebrate the peaceful transition of power in a democracy, we saw armed battles with police and torching of cars and breaking of store windows. How many in the progressive world denounced that type of action? We have seen calls for shutting down government to stop policies and for filibuster of all of the President’s nominations to his cabinet and Supreme Court. But when the Republicans did this to President Obama’s nominees and policies these same individuals were appalled and said that it was against the way democracy should be run. You cannot have it both ways.
There are equal concerns about the so-called right. At a time when the popular vote showed a deep divide within the country, despite the Electoral College’s majority voting for President Trump, how can you say that there is a complete mandate for change. The gerrymandered Congressional districts have thrown the balance of power to one side with close to half or more of the United States population feeling disenfranchised.
A more balanced approach to governing is needed by both sides. Rather than rhetoric and hyperbole from the left and right a honest discussion of what is working and what is not working must take place. As an example, in the policy discussions over Social Security, statements saying that Social Security will go bankrupt in the next two decades only serves to scare the younger baby boomers who have not been able to save for retirement with 51% relying on Social Security for the primary source of their retirement income and 23% relying on Social Security for 90% of their retirement income. Experts agree that Social Security has enough funds to pay full benefits over the next 18 years. It is only after 2034 that Social Security will only be able to pay 79% of benefits dropping to 74% of benefits by 2090. This is hardly bankruptcy of a system which serves retirees, widows, children and people with disabilities. Instead we should be discussing how to make changes to the financing of Social Security because now the payroll taxes only cover 80% of covered wages rather than the 90% of covered wages in the past. There will of course be disagreements. But discussion with facts and balanced temperaments is how these policy discussions can take place.
This is not to say that when questions or concerns arise that people should be silent. But rather than reacting from fear and distress over what might happen in the future action can take place from what is happening now. Although not a Rotarian myself, but the Four Way Test created by a Rotarian in 1932, is a good way to focus and have public policy discussions. 1) Is it the TRUTH? 2) Is it FAIR to all concerned? 3) Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? 4) Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
I am talking about a Middle Way approach to policy discussions. Not a Third Way which is more of a centrist public policy ideology, but looking at actual experience, facts, and discussing how we can move forward (or not) in a pragmatic way for the benefit of all concerned. Rather than the left and right playing upon the worst fears of their groups and using hyperbolic language, we should be talking to each other and finding the common ground of a democratic society.
Lowell Arye, Yardley, PA has worked in public policy for more than 35 years at the national and state level.
This was initially published in The Bucks County Courier Times on April 27, 2017 as a Guest editorial, under the title: Key to moving forward: Finding common ground.