Editorial: Common ground is being missed by left and right alike
“Common ground is out there. I see it every day.”
Barack Obama said that Friday when he spoke at the University of Illinois, exhorting students toward engagement and voting.
Those two sentences are perhaps the most missed concept in modern politics, and like gravity, it is a concept that does not depend on party or position.
At a time when the spectrum of us and them continues to be stretched further and further, threatening to snap the middle like an overtaxed rubber band, the overlap on things everyone agrees on is being overlooked every single day and in every single argument.
It doesn’t just happen because people aren’t listening to one another, although that’s certainly a contributing factor. It’s happening because we have lost the ability to disagree without demonizing.
You can’t support police without being racist. You can’t oppose the shooting of unarmed black men without hating the police. You can’t agree that a football player has a right to his opinion without spitting on the sacrifice of veterans. You can’t honor the contributions of veterans without muzzling the free speech veterans protect.
You can’t want your neighbor to be able to pay for his kid’s cancer meds without wanting another neighbor to lose his house because he can’t pay his taxes. You can’t want tax cuts without wanting schools to become underfunded testing warehouses. You can’t advocate for women’s voices to be heard in the workplace without saying you want men to sit down and shut up.
Except none of that has to be true.
You can be a Christian and a Democrat. You can be a gay Republican. You can be concerned about the environment and the deficit at the same time. You can simultaneously support free speech and oppose white supremacy. You can be a veteran who doesn’t kneel but knows why someone else does.
You can know that there is an almost limitless field of “yes, but …” between the polar opposites of any issue, and that’s a basic, honest truth that we have to start acknowledging or we are just lost.
That space in between includes a lot of common ground. That’s the place where, for more than 200 years, leaders and legislators have looked at what we wanted, what we needed and what would work to find a place that wasn’t perfect but was better than the alternative.
We have to stop equating opponents with enemies, because it turns all that common ground into someone’s hill to die on.