Maggie Berglund: Solution to Gridlock: More voices at the table

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Special to the Pilot & Today

President Barack Obama has been traveling the halls of our Capitol building looking for bipartisan support on a stimulus plan, but I wonder whether his bipartisan efforts are enough.

A friend caught my attention recently when she told me about an effort called the Transpartisan Alliance. While the country calls for bipartisan efforts during this challenging time, the Transpartisan Alliance is taking things one step further. The alliance seeks to loosen the deadlock of a two-party system by increasing the diversity of the parties at the table. Next week, this alliance will be holding a summit in Denver, where members promise "a new kind of public conversation that moves beyond polarization by applying proven methods of facilitated dialogue."

I don't know what those proven methods are, and I was skeptical of members being able to deliver on this promise, but the more I thought about it, the more sense the idea made. Our two-party system allows, and even encourages, political discussions to be more about enhancing the power of a party than finding a workable solution. As the two sides pull harder and harder against each other, the knot between them becomes more and more intractable. With two sides ganging up on each other, it is too hard for the public to see what is really at the heart of the knot.

On its Web site, the alliance defines bipartisanship as "a 'splitting of the loaf' between members of the Republican Party and members of the Democratic Party without regard to independent, third party, or unaffiliated views." With the focus on the two parties, the "bread" doesn't cover all our needs. Instead, the alliance focuses on bringing a range of diverse views together and finding a solution through dialogue.

It took some thought for me to understand how this might work. As an analogy, if bipartisanship is two sides pulling a knot between them tighter and tighter, then perhaps transpartisanship brings more strands to the table; instead of a knot there is the opportunity to make a fabric. Hasn't the fabric of our nation always been its diversity?

Consider this scenario from one of the presidential debates between Senators John McCain and Obama last year. McCain said he had supported funding the troops in Iraq but Obama had voted against funding the troops. Obama said he had voted for funding the troops but McCain had voted against the bill for funding them. The real issue wasn't about supporting our troops; both candidates wish to support our troops. The discussion was about Republican versus Democrat. Finally, Obama explained that they both believed in funding the troops, but the issue was a timetable for withdrawal. We cannot afford to have our discussions be about Republican versus Democrat. We need to focus on the issues, on solutions.

Right now, Republicans are saying that the stimulus bill is full of earmarks. The Democrats say it isn't. Their argument is more about how to define the term earmark than it is about fixing the economy. We won't obtain a real dialogue about the issues free of political posturing until we include more views in the discussion.

The public discussion of this legislation has been focused too much on whether President Obama can get bipartisan support and not enough about the formation of policy that makes sense. By taking a transpartisan approach and increasing the voices at the table I hope that we can come up with solutions that rise above bipartisanship to benefit our country. Maybe through transpartisanship we can weave a net instead of simply throwing a rope. You can learn more about the Transpartisan Alliance at www.transpartisan.net.

Maggie Berglund, a longtime Routt County resident and former organizer for the Community Alliance, is living in Denver and preparing to go to journalism school.

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