Achieving ‘yes’ Work together on problems
“Just say no.” Remember that admonition during the 1980s war on drugs? The problem with the notion was a lack of specific actions resulting in a sufficient substitute for the many causes and conditions leading to substance abuse and addiction.
But this isn’t about drugs and alcohol. It’s about another form of addiction. An addiction to “no” itself.
Another early 1980s pop phrase was “getting to yes.” In fact, in 1981 a book of the same title by Roger Fisher and William Ury was published: Getting to Yes—Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. The best-selling business book came out of what was called the Harvard Negotiation Project. The main idea centered around the concept of “principled negotiation,” which included tenets such as “separate the people from the problem,” “focus on interests, not positions,” “invent options for mutual gain,” and “insist on using objective criteria.”
In a political context at the state and national levels, it seems to me this type of negotiating template could be used for more effective problemsolving. And that’s exactly what the organization called No Labels is attempting to do.
No Labels is co-chaired by Democratic former Connecticut Senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, and Republican former Utah Governor and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. The organization was founded on the belief that common-sense solutions exist for our national challenges, and that our country needs a bipartisan agenda to set us on the right path. Further, that government should be capable of setting and meeting these mutually beneficial goals.
Now, No Labels is not delusional. The leadership of the organization understands there are competing ideological positions and philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans, many times embodied in political personalities. But as Getting to Yes advised, in order to be successful negotiators, the focus must be on interests, not positions, and principles rather than personalities.
No Labels has no expectation that elected officials should compromise their principles. They do expect, however, that our elected officials realize the benefits of replacing the politics of partisan point-scoring with the politics of productive problem-solving. Good policy is good politics.
On Wednesday in Washington, D.C., No Labels is holding a problem-solvers conference. I and four other interested Arkansans will be joining the expected 1,000 attendees. The agenda, introduced by Senator Lieberman and Governor Huntsman, will include the history of the organization; a review of the new Problem-Solvers Caucus in Congress, which was recently formed by a bipartisan group of members; what was learned from the 2016 elections; policy education; energizing communities; and online mobilization. Arkansan and former presidential chief of staff Mack McLarty is on the board of No Labels and will be in attendance, as well.
There are two key issues that continually receive bipartisan head nods: tax reform and infrastructure investment. My primary interest is in infrastructure and the economic-development and private-sector job-creating benefits of increased funding for Arkansas’ highways, roads, streets and bridges.
Using these topics as a focus for discussion and ultimate solution could provide valuable lessons on how to address the other critical issues of health care, education and training, public safety, judicial reform, and more from a constructive platform of bipartisan negotiation and compromise.
A deeply divided nation encourages “no.” Achieving “yes” can come from an equally divided nation, in search of common ground, common goals, and shared benefits.