The third alternative can shrink the widening gap

John McDonagh

According to a Pew Research study published in June 2012, the average partisan gap has nearly doubled in the 25 years between 1987 and 2012. What we commonly refer to as the polarization of the two main political parties has been measured as the difference in the values and basic beliefs along party or “partisan” lines.

Since 1987, Pew has been documenting the values differences gap along the lines of gender, age, ethnicity, education, income and religion, in addition to political preferences. Interestingly enough, all of the other measures are relatively flat during the 25-year period. That is, the gap hasn’t appreciably increased during the two and a half decades of measurements.

However, when measured against partisan lines, the gap has widened by 80 percent with the greatest growth in differences occurring during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The value differences contributing most to the gap are around the social safety net, the environment, labor issues, equal opportunity, the scope of government and immigration.

Not surprisingly, local news headlines recount the same polarizing issues and at all levels of government. Something must change and I’ll suggest it is pursuit of the third alternative. It is a practice I forced upon my kids growing up. They constantly were mired in a conflict of “this or that,” where neither was an acceptable solution. I’m sure they tired of me asking, “What is the third alternative?” Rarely is any situation able to be reduced to “this or that.” Consequently, that means there must be a third alternative. It doesn’t mean the alternative is the best choice, but at the very least it puts the first two in a different perspective.

The polarization happening today is, in part, the result of a school of thought that focuses on our differences rather than on the things we might hold in common. Often times the third alternative is nothing more than recognizing a shared belief and starting there.

The one remaining factor to be considered in pursuit of the third alternative, especially within the political arena, is strength of will. There must be the will to abandon the partisan position; the will to look for common ground and to stand up to the naysayers; to talk with someone on the other side of an issue and to seek an acceptable solution.

Holding on to a partisan position to the point of impasse only assures rancor and continued divisiveness. Frankly, that hasn’t worked out very well. We have tremendous challenges ahead in our local communities, our region and our state. Continuing to banter back and forth with partisan position statements isn’t getting us closer to substantive and meaningful solutions.

Why not make 2014 the year when pursuit of the third alternative is the rule. Make this the year when partisanship gives way once again to statesmanship as we begin to build the community we need to sustain our future generations.

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