A national dialogue needed

Published 8:24 am Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ask a teacher, and they will most likely tell you that one of the quickest ways to kill classroom discussion is for one strong-willed student to monopolize the conversation. A long-winded or uncomfortably impassioned monologue inevitably polarizes viewpoints. Conversation shuts down, and often times inner-fuming begins.

Likewise, business leaders know that creating dialogue is one of the most effective ways to enhance collaboration, and ultimately create a product that can improve their bottom line. Just as a monologue creates polarization, dialogue by its very nature requires collaboration. An effective dialogue recognizes not only the right to know, but the need to know. True dialogue is important not only because it allows each individual to be involved in deciding what gets done, but because it nearly always leads to a better outcome than if no dialogue had taken place.

There is a lot of uncertainty in America today. One thing we can be certain of, though, is the fact that America is polarized. Citizens and elected leaders alike feel passionately one way or the other about a wide range of issues. Some of the polarization is legitimately caused by differing principles; some is fed by partisan politics. Often, though, it is the partisan politics rather than the principled differences that controls the conversation. What America needs, however, is dialogue.

As a member of Congress, I intend to remain unwavering on the principles upon which I was elected. At a time when there is distrust in government, I believe it is important to keep the promises I have made. I am also certain that many of my congressional colleagues feel the same way.

Yet, we both have a responsibility to hear each other out. Some in Washington have become so focused on scoring political points that they’ve jeopardized the national conversation. Just like the student that won’t stop talking, leaders in Washington have become more attached to their talking points than the best solutions to start moving our nation forward again. The result is the areas where we can work together become muddled in a mire of political grandstanding and mudslinging.

Yet, even those of us with strong policy differences have common ground. And amid the monologues, it’s important to point out those areas so that our government in Washington can serve the American people as well as Americans have worked for their own families and sacrificed for our nation. Here are some initiatives where we have a potential for dialogue:


While many may disagree on cap and trade legislation, we do have common ground on energy. The Administration has stated its support for expanding the use of nuclear power, clean coal and domestic drilling, efforts that many Republicans and Democrats support. Likewise, the American Energy Act, which I supported, is an “all-of-the-above” bill that would increase the domestic supply of energy through drilling and expanding nuclear power, among others.

In addition, there are many that agree — the administration included — that we need to take a Manhattan-style approach to solving our energy challenge. I have introduced the New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence, which challenges the U.S. to reach 50 percent energy independence in 10 years and 100 percent energy independence in 20 years.


There is broad agreement in Washington that the Alternative Minimum Tax should be repealed for individual taxpayers. Congressional leadership included an AMT patch in the stimulus bill, H.R. 1.

Although I did not support the stimulus bill on government spending principles, I have supported full repeal of the AMT in the Economic Recovery and Middle-Class Tax Relief Act. This is an initiative that could be passed as a stand-alone bill to bring tax relief to thousands of Americans.


There is wide bipartisan support for encouraging charter schools and rewarding school innovation as a means of improving the education system in America. The administration has created initiatives such as Race to the Top, which requires that states not prohibit charter schools.

I have supported bipartisan programs that seek to reform the educational landscape through competitive grants programs and systems of rewards as a means to help transform education in America.

We have the opportunity to make great strides in education by coming together on these initiatives.