More “And”, Less “Or”

BY Kate Brightwell

Today, I experienced one of the most tried and true D.C. traditions… brunch. It was fabulous; the food was excellent and the service was colorful in the best possible way. During brunch, one of my friends was poking fun at another friend who was eating their meal by putting both his steak and eggs together when taking a bite. When asked why he did this, he said, “I ordered steak and eggs, not steak or eggs.”

Ok, now I know that this might not seem to be a profound statement, but it made me think about this question of “or” or “and.”

In the political context, we are often asked to choose one side or the other. We are democrat or republican. Liberal or conservative.

This greatly impacts how elected officials govern. They are forced to toe party lines and cater to the extreme just to get on the ballot. They must choose to align themselves with one, and only one side, republican or democrat, to win elections.

Bill Shireman, CEO and president of Future 500, makes a compelling argument stating that if America’s two major political parties cannot unite, the Islamic State (or ISIS) could win its battle with the West. He furthers this argument by saying that the Islamic fundamentalism is not the problem, but rather fundamentalism in general. Both sides of our political spectrum feel the need to separate themselves unconditionally, and thus create an opening for discord.

This past week, I attended an academic seminar that focused on bipartisan solutions. We delved into questioning why congress has been unanimously unproductive. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found evidence that supported the idea that American politics is now more polarized than ever and that PP-2014-06-12-polarization-0-01the “moderate democrat” and the “moderate republican” are becoming further and further apart in ideology. Moreover, the research found that 27% of democrats view the republicans as dangerous for our country’s well-being and 36% of republicans have the same feelings toward the democrats. Our elected officials seem to be mirroring this sentiment as we have seen greater gridlock in the 113th congress than in any congress since the civil war.

It is here that I see the dreaded “or” I was talking about earlier. Just as my friend ordered steak and eggs, I would like to order democrat and republican, liberal and conservative. Maybe this is because I am a millennial, but I believe we need “and” or than “or.”  I do not want to suggest that one should not stand firm on their ideals, but rather recognize the areas where “and” is possible and to not just choose “or” because it is what the side you are on tells you to do.

Our culture would like to tell us that these concepts- democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives- are like oil and vinegar and could not possibly mix. I however, would like to point out that when shaken together, oil and vinegar make a hell of a salad dressing. Our political system just needs to be shaken a little to force our polarized sides to work together.

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