This week makes 10 straight years that I’ve written a Thanksgiving column. These pieces started out being very personal: my annual attempts to convey my gratitude for my family and my friends, for lessons learned and for those who taught them.
In the past couple of years, these missives have turned into pleas to heal our broken politics. This year, I’m urging you to look beyond our broken politics.
It can be done. I watched it happen earlier this month.
One week before the turkeys are carved, a couple of dozen people came to my office. We talked for an hour and a half about Georgia’s challenges and opportunities related to workforce development. But what was said about that topic, while interesting and even useful, isn’t what got my attention. It’s what wasn’t said.
The group members came from all sorts of backgrounds. They work in industry, academia and government. They have lived in many different places, and represent a number of different interests. And while we didn’t ask allegiances or check voting records, I know some of them vote Republican and suspect others are Democrats.
Funny enough, though, no one started a comment with “As a Republican …” or “As a progressive …”
For an hour and a half, it didn’t matter.
We told them we’d worked hard to ensure the group included a variety of perspectives and a range of expertise. We told them their input would be shared with policy makers. And we told them their names wouldn’t be attached to what they said.
Armed with that knowledge, they set about simply – get this – talking about the issue.
It was the kind of discussion Americans say they want and only imagine they can still witness.
While I was thankful the whole event came off as well as it did, afterward I was left wondering why we don’t see this sort of thing more often. Not every public hearing or debate resembles a cable-TV shouting match between talking heads – the opposite is closer to being true – but the undercurrent of partisanship is almost always much closer to the surface.
I don’t think it’s an accident their apolitical candor followed a promise of privacy. There was a time when politics was something you discussed only in a small, private group. Now it’s ubiquitous, from sidewalks to social media, and people seem compelled at all times to engage, defend their side, wring their hands about the other side. It’s as if one seeks private spaces today not to discuss politics, but to escape it.
But I don’t think that’s all there was to it. I believe the instinct for most Americans when confronted with a difficult but important problem is – still – to work toward a solution. And not to ask, what does the rest of my tribe think?
We in Georgia were fortunate to see this instinctive approach in action over the past several years as members of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Criminal Justice Reform Council set aside party labels to seek common-sense improvements to our legal system. His successor would be wise to use the same model for issues ranging from workforce development to health care.
It’s not that politics doesn’t have its place, or that personal beliefs should be ignored. But the political process should be limited to helping us select those who govern, and then evaluate whether they’ve done a good enough job to continue.
Beyond that, put “policy over politics,” as my organization likes to say. You, and the rest of us, will be thankful you did.
• Kyle Wingfield is president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Contact him via the group’s website at www.georgiapolicy.org.