Thanksgiving and civility, part 2: Four topics worth putting on the table
Konar is the founder of Common Ground Solutions, a nonprofit that seeks to increase civic engagement and improve political discourse. Kull is the president of Voice of the People, a nonprofit that's developing methods for citizens to crowd-source policy proposals with broad appeal.
It's a sign of our fractious age: Each Thanksgiving, as millions of families prepare for the holiday weekend together, we see numerous "how to" guides for navigating and avoiding political discussions. "Even the most innocent mention of politics or social issues could threaten to turn MawMaw's house into the thunder dome," wrote CNN.
No one wants a cable TV shouting match to ruin the holiday. But the idea that we are too hopelessly polarized to have a reasonable conversation about politics is wrong. In fact, on many of our toughest issues, like health care, immigration, taxes and political reform, large majorities of Americans share a remarkable amount of common ground.
Nonpartisan, in-depth surveys show that red and blue Americans routinely agree on many difficult issues — crossing party lines, defying conventional wisdom and finding more common ground than you might expect, and far more than you find in Congress.
Your Thanksgiving table can talk politics and agree on something. Here are four examples of policy areas on which majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents generally agree.
Health care. More than three in four Americans oppose letting insurance companies charge higher rates to people with pre‐existing conditions, or charging older people dramatically more than they do younger ones. Eighty-eight percent want to make it easier to get generic drugs on the market. Almost eight in 10 want to protect patients from surprise medical bills for services that are out of their health insurer's network.
Immigration. Almost seven in 10 Republicans and Democrats would allow undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to stay here for work or study, so long as they pass a background check. Also, 69 percent want more temporary work visas for industries like landscaping and hotels. Majorities of both parties favor deterring illegal immigration by requiring employers to verify employee immigration status using the E-verify system.
Budget and taxes. Majorities of Republicans and Democrats agree on spending cuts and revenue increases to reduce the deficit by $376 billion. They support new taxes on Wall Street, rolling back the recent tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year and increasing taxes on alcohol. They also agree on modest cuts to defense spending and on cutting subsidies to agricultural corporations.
Political reform. Almost eight in 10 Americans want to stop the revolving door by banning members of Congress from lobbying for five years after they retire. More than eight in 10 demand real-time transparency from corporations, unions and others on their campaign spending. Almost as many want to keep legal bans in place on political activity by churches and universities that receive tax-deductible donations. More than 70 percent want term limits for legislators, and three-quarters say it's time to give third-party candidates better opportunities to compete in elections.
In other words, pass the pie and keep talking — there's plenty for your red and blue relatives to agree on. Once you find areas of agreement, you're much more likely to have constructive discussions in areas where you don't agree.
Listening carefully to other points of view might even teach all of us something we didn't know before. That would be one more reason to give thanks.
In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.