(originally published at The Huffington Post)
Yesterday's news about Arlen Specter changing parties, likely leading to a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate, has Democrats justifiably elated about the possibilities to move through bolder legislation.
Some jubilation is justified but we need to be careful not to neglect a still deeper need for our country -- to heal our fractious political process and move beyond partisan bickering in a way that leads both major parties to work collaboratively on creating the best solutions for the American people rather than simply jockeying for power. The challenges we face are too vast to handle from one side of the ideological aisle alone; it's an all hands-on-deck moment in history.
The final decisive tipping of the power scales to the Democrats can thus mark the shift from an era of partisan horse-trading to transpartisan collaboration on solutions. The former is an era of politics by force; the dominant party simply jams its ideological agenda down the throat of the other. Or, when blocked, that party offers pork-style concessions that don't benefit the American people. This style of politics soured the American people on our government, undermined our sense of hope and created divides in what should be one, united American people.
So long as the Republicans held the filibuster wildcard after the last election, there was still an opportunity to drag out the era of politics by force. Now that they are about to lose that option, they need to refocus on influence, ideas, and creative solutions that strengthen legislative initiatives. In other words, they need to win points on merit rather than strong-arm tactics. If party leaders toss ideological grenades rather than generate solutions, the respect of America people for them will dwindle.
The Democrats, on the other hand, need to demonstrate that they can do two things simultaneously. First, advance the legislative mandates for which the American people have elected them. And second, to wield considerable power in a way that is respectful and honoring of other political positions and thus acts to heal the political civil war we've been living through. This stance welcomes the ideas, input and creativity of other parties rather than ignoring them on ideological grounds. The Democrats thus need to evolve the political culture of Washington in the next two years, as well as turn America around economically and psychologically. Gloating, lording power over Republicans, or ignoring input and ideas other parties will perpetuate the political warfare. Wounds that fester now erupt later, to the detriment of us all.
That is why now is the historical moment when we need a strong national transpartisan movement, such as is offered by ReunitingAmerica.org, a group co-founded by former Republican politico Joseph McCormick who recognized the deep healing needed in our political process after seeing the ways the warfare tore his own life apart. In recent years, they have had succeeded in bringing together an Energy Security summit, with Al Gore convening key progressive leaders and Grover Norquist convening key conservative leaders in a search for improved dialogue and better solutions. MoveOn.org and the Christian Coalition found enough common ground from a similar gathering to produce a joint newspaper ad on net neutrality. The group has recently shifted from a leadership-only focus to creating a grassroots Transpartisan Alliance.
I attended a gathering in Berkeley last night that is focused on piloting a Transpartisan Alliance movement in the Bay Area. The goal is to have skilled local facilitators help us move beyond polarized political identities to identify shared values and common purposes, so that we can ultimately generate a more holistic approach to democracy. It was a hopeful group filled with both left-leaning and right-leaning people, all with important ideas about how to ignite a transpartisan movement, from developing toolboxes to citizen summits.
I believe that the strong tilt in national power towards the Democrats can offer a window for this transpartisan work to gain traction and lead to the healing of partisan wounds and the building of effective bridges of collaboration. Doing this at a personal, local level is essential, as is doing it on a national level. As each of us finds greater political wholeness, integrating the perspectives of the other "side" into our own, we can work more effectively on the truly daunting problems facing our country. The less creative energy we waste in political friction, the more effectively we can create the next evolution of our country -- a whole systems shift that stretches from the grassroots to the White House.