Today, the default mode in Washington is to fight. On health care, immigration, the national debt and other issues, too many “leaders” retreat to their partisan corners before there’s a clear sense of where we’re headed. If members of both parties came together first to determine overall goals and destinations, the hard work of developing policy would go more smoothly.
History is full of success stories from this sort of “goals first” process. The mid-1990s were replete with government shutdowns and dueling agendas. But once Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich agreed on the goal of balancing the federal budget, they got it done.
Similarly, President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill crossed swords on foreign policy, the size of government and more. But their effectiveness was based on more than their famous collegiality. They found common ground in goals such as their mutual desire to make the tax code simpler and fairer. Once they agreed to that objective, they created a bipartisan coalition that enacted one of the most comprehensive tax reforms in U.S. history.
In the past century, our nation has rallied around such bold agendas as universal public education, the interstate highway system and sending a man to the moon. These goals mobilized political will across the partisan spectrum and led to landmark achievements.