How to Talk to a Democrat, or a Republican

Photograph by Charlie Engman for Bloomberg Businessweek

How to Talk to a Democrat
By Judd Gregg

The best way for a conservative Republican to develop a working relationship with a liberal Democrat in the Senate is to get to know their dog. Ted Kennedy had his dog, Splash; Kent Conrad has his dog, Dakota. We worked on No Child Left Behind and Conrad-Gregg, which led to the Simpson-Bowles commission. Dogs do not generally get hung up on ideology, they just want to sit under the hearing dais and have their ears scratched.

There are no special ways or tricks to crossing the aisle and getting something done in a bipartisan way with colleagues who hold genuinely different views of the world. You just simply do it. Most everyone who serves in the Senate is a reasonable, substantive person, and likeable. There are exceptions on both sides of the aisle, but they are exceptions. The key is respect and reasonableness. No senator of one party expects the senator he or she is working with of the other party to relinquish his or her core beliefs. It is not necessary. There are almost always numerous areas where progress can be made and common ground found. It took Ron Wyden and I two years of essentially constant negotiation to develop a massive tax reform law. It was the result of us both wanting to get something done in a critical area and acknowledging that we came at the issue with different views but many common goals. It does take a while to develop the relationships of trust and respect that are at the core of getting big things done in a divided system. But why be there if you do not try? Of course, the other option is to get every senator a dog.
— Gregg, a former Republican senator and New Hampshire governor, is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.

How to Talk to a Republican
By Ron Wyden

The increasing conflation of governing and campaigning only feeds the view that Democrats and Republicans are on the opposite sides of everything. Each side starts thinking of the other like the enemy, and bipartisanship gets portrayed as capitulation. Reach out to someone in the other camp and you risk being branded a “traitor.” The problem with this is that governing isn’t like campaigning. Treating legislating like a zero-sum game in which both sides try to score points while preventing the other side from gaining anything tends to result in legislation that doesn’t do much for anyone, including the American people, who grow more frustrated with Congress’s inability to solve problems. Refusing to talk to the other side also neglects the fact that every issue doesn’t have a diametrically opposed Democratic and Republican point of view, nor does either party have a lock on all the good ideas.

The Tax Reform Act of 1986, for example, infuriated some of the biggest special interest groups in Washington in an election year. Democrats and Republicans, however, both cheered the agreement—it passed the Senate Finance Committee by a vote of 20 to 0—because both parties got what they wanted.

You don’t have to compromise your principles or even like the other side. To get what you want, find a way for the other side to get what they want, too. This means talking “to” the other side vs. “at” them, listening to the other side’s concerns, and finding ways to address them and understanding what the other side really wants and looking for ways to achieve it.
— Senator Wyden (D-Ore.) has sponsored more than 150 bipartisan bills.

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