Friday, April 6, 2018

Rankin’s Proposal for the President: Healing a Toxic Political Culture


April 5, 2018

In the face of a toxic political culture, what can be done to introduce some honesty and charity? The need is to provide a level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally for all partisans – where they all know they are being given an honest listen in the presence of opposing partisans. That is, to accomplish what is presently an oxymoron in status quo politics.

A level playing field means 1) the pursuit of an honest definition of terms on any given topic, which 2) yields the information necessary for all partisans to make informed choices on policy matters, so that 3) partisan debate can flourish to the well-being of the nation.

Truth is then free to rise to the top, and only those who pursue the truth will have interest in such a level playing field.

Here the President, at the national level, and indeed, governors at the state level, can do a great service. Rooted in my three and a half decades of public policy ministry in the face of the most passionately debated questions, I am willing to serve the President in such a process as a non-paid consultant. What might it look like?

First, it can be titled: Presidential Conversations.

Second, choose a topic for each Conversation, e.g., To Build or Not to Build (re: immigration along the southern border).

Third, the President can select the most qualified partisan who strenuously opposes his stated policies on the chosen question. Then invite him or her to a prime-time televised one-hour conversation with a live audience and media who are broadcasting it live and in its entirely. Those partisans who accept commend themselves; those who refuse for no good reason disqualify themselves.

Fourth, have the opposing partisan read a maximum 150-word prepared statement on a) the facts of the debated topic as he or she understands them, and b) an interpretation of what they mean for public policy. The President will likewise give his own 150-word statement.

Both the President and his dissenting partisan can each have one or two select advisers with whom to consult in the conversation that follows.

And fifth, I, along with a co-moderator of balancing perspectives, would question both the President and his partisan disputant equally on their definition of terms, and interpretations. Then they question one another as they see fit. All in a conversational pace.

This proposed format can be changed in any number of ways in service to the goal, which is very simple. Namely, to have each person heard as fully as possible, face-to-face, in public profile. This way, the public is best served in coming to know the real debates at hand, and thus better able to make informed choices. Any honest partisan should be glad to embrace such a face-to-face public conversation.

Other possible questions include, among many possibilities: To Filibuster or Not?; To Russia with Love?; To What Extent Can China be Trusted in Trade?; Israel, Iran and Palestine: What are the Facts?; To What Extent Can North Korea be Trusted?; Should the Government Help Underwrite Planned Parenthood?; What is the Agenda of the Never-Trumpers?; How does the well-being of men and boys affect the well-being of women and girls?; What is the relationship between religious freedom, and political and economic freedom?; and What Does Nathaniel Hawthorne Have to do with the Second Amendment?

Such conversations across the partisan divides can become must-see television – and presidential leadership can make it happen – all in the conviction that truth rises to the top on a level playing field.