WAGNER: Bringing Venn diagrams to bear on politics

January 21, 2012

Jennifer WagnerI have a significant weakness for the Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

When it comes on the radio, pity the nearby motorists or neighbors exposed to my full-voice rendition of the classic tune.

Personal musical interpretation aside, I love the song’s lyrics more than anything.

We’ve all read too many columns about the need for more niceness and compromise in politics. That’s a great goal, but it’s also a tad naïve in this day and age of SuperPACs and punch-out ad wars.

As I was writing this, a Twitter follower (I’m @DarvelComms, if you’re so inclined) suggested that the idyllic first 100 days of someone’s term in office is a thing of the past. I don’t disagree.

Another friend noted that the losers always want the winners to compromise. Well, yes. This is true, too, of small children bartering with their parents for a certain number of treats after dinner: It’s never an even negotiation.

Listen, I’m not asking for a political utopia. I’d be happy with a few weeks of post-election relief and a common sense approach to the low-hanging issues that everyone, if they’re honest, agrees need to move forward.

How do we find these issues amidst all the bickering? I have an idea.

Most candidates publish white papers and policy plans during their campaigns. The media spend roughly four minutes reading these missives before they become fodder for opposition researchers and communications operatives.

Once the election is over, these reports get filed away as reference for future campaign cycles or banished to boxes you only open when you’re “cleaning house” before or after a big move.

But what if they didn’t disappear?

What if, the day after the election, we took all the pieces of paper generated by each side, put them on a table and made a real-life Venn diagram of political promises?

There would be issues on either side where ideologies and beliefs are clearly defined, making compromise much more difficult. But in the middle—in that nice, overlapping space—would be a set of Things We Can Get Done.

Locally, I think of the smoking ban, charter schools and certain economic development projects that will revitalize key parts of our city.

At the state level, the smoking ban again rears its head, but so do issues such as government reform and protecting our most vulnerable residents from fraud and abuse.

A more cynical commentator might call these the “no-brainer” issues—the ones that should pass with input but little opposition.

Yet more and more frequently, we see opposition just for opposition’s sake, failure to meet halfway because it’s easier to stay home.

No one wants that, not even this occasional political hack.

I fully realize that every vote these days, even the seemingly harmless ones, will be later used for political gain, if not by a partisan challenger then by someone on the same side of the aisle.

That’s why I’m proposing a Festivus-like celebration after every election.

Feats of Strength are optional, but an Airing of Grievances is mandatory, and someone would have to be in charge of documenting the Circles of Agreement developed by the aforementioned Venn diagram process.

The event would produce an unassailable to-do list with an expiration date: Elected officials would have one month from the date they’re sworn in to finish their chores.

I kid, of course, but it’s nice to let the imagination run wild every now and again.

After all, this is 2012, and we’re well into what’s already a contentious fight on the GOP side and will undoubtedly become a bipartisan slog as we move past the primary. Lots of wants. Lots of promises.

But no matter how bitter the battle, we’re going to have a winner and a loser in November, and those wants and promises will either become history or part of a new political reality.

Seek ye an inch of middle ground, Future Elected Officials.•


Wagner is a lifelong Indianapolis resident who served as deputy director of public affairs at the National Nuclear Security Administration. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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