A CIVIL ASSESSMENT: The Cure for Partisan Politics

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., July 9, 2013 – This is an introduction to a social experiment in which you are invited to participate. How often have you read an Op-Ed piece by a purported “expert” with whom you clearly disagreed? How often have you felt that the “expert” was biased and presented only those facts that supported his or her opinion? How often have you believed you could have done a better job?

Well, now is your chance!

WHAT: The Communities section of The Washington Times, under which this social experiment will be conducted, is somewhat unique. It is not subject to the editorial board of the news organization (i.e., it is an open forum in which the views of the writers need not reflect the views of The Washington Times). In effect, it merges Freedom of the Press with Freedom of Speech.

In that regard, rather than constructing an argument and offering it for your comment (which is reflective of what is normally done), I thought it might be interesting to break from tradition and create a model in which you shared your opinion without the intervention of mine. Rather than serving as the “expert” who reaches a conclusion on your behalf and with which you may only agree or disagree, I would prefer to provide you with a safe environment in which you can frame your own opinions and support them with facts.

HOW (and WHO):  A Civil Assessment will be structured to raise an issue and perhaps suggest several points of view. It will entrust you with the opportunity to reach your own, well-reasoned conclusions and to express them in the Comment section. I trust that the Comment section will be far more interesting and informative than a typical article because it will represent a cross-section of opinions as opposed to the point of view of a single individual.

In fact, you will be the author of this column’s true content. Your contributions will be a far more relevant representation of the diverse opinions that may be held than any simplistic poll could ever establish. You will not be left with a foolish Yes/No option or a naïve multiple choice question. Instead, you will be challenged with “filling in the blanks” … an open-ended scenario that will encourage you to research the subject and share your independent thoughts.

For this social experiment to succeed, there will be one critical rule: you must demonstrate respect for the thoughtful opinions of others. If you prefer to mindlessly attack another person’s position because it does not conform to yours, please excuse yourself from this forum and embarrass yourself somewhere else.

A Civil Assessment is meant to reflect what its name implies: a civil assessment of issues that welcomes divergent opinions based on fact rather than emotion. Our Nation’s Founders were relatively gifted in this regard. They drew upon the teachings of Bayle, Locke, Newton, Spinoza, Voltaire, and others from the Age of Enlightenment.

Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were among those who carried the torch of Enlightenment within the United States. Additionally, one of our Nation’s early political parties (the recently resurrected Whigs) followed these same tenets and were graced with the likes of Henry Clay, Horace Greeley, Daniel Webster, four consecutive Presidents, and a gentleman by the name of Abraham Lincoln (before the first iteration of the Party dissolved). Who will step forward to assume this role today?

I, for one, would like to learn what your opinion is of the challenges that our elected officials find so insurmountable. How would you define the problem? What is the root cause? What alternatives exist? What solutions would you propose and why? How would they be implemented? Have you considered the adverse consequences of a mistaken decision? How have you planned to recover from such a scenario should it arise?

You need not address every single aspect, but your input is important. The last time I looked, the Constitution began with the words “We the People.” It is time for the People to voice their opinions.

WHEN:  I shall do my best to raise an interesting issue for your consideration every Tuesday. If you would like to be informed automatically when each new article posts, just follow any of the social media links listed at the bottom of this column, and please encourage others who might be interested to do the same.

WHY:  I have written two prior columns for the Communities of The Washington Times that have been captured below for your convenience. The first was a satirical rendering of our political system entitled, The Common Sense Czar. The second was a far more serious column entitled, A President for the People, which was a platform from which I shared observations and solutions from my 2012 Presidential candidacy.

I suppose that many of you are asking “What presidential candidacy?”

In November 2011, I announced my candidacy for the Office of President of the United States. My goal was not to become President since the Parties have erected nearly insurmountable barriers to preclude any legitimate candidate from threatening their duopoly. Instead, my objective was to create a more informed electorate for it is my belief that the erosion of our political system can most efficiently be reversed by individuals who have the courage to cast an informed vote.

We live in a politically volatile environment that has been inflamed by open animosity. The two major Parties have brilliantly executed a “divide and conquer” strategy that has driven our Nation apart and mired us in a state of perpetual crisis. By creating a “We/They” mentality and exploiting negative emotions (e.g., fear, greed, etc.), the Parties have been able to engrain deeply seated beliefs that condition political behavior in a way that inures to their benefit. Ardent supporters donate massive amounts of money “to the cause” and vote exclusively along Party lines. Even those who are not as committed to the Parties can be swayed to conform by the perpetuated myth that no other alternative exists.

For the latter type of individuals, the Parties construct a Hobson’s choice. Pompous refrains of “You’ll just be wasting your vote” and “We know our candidate isn’t very good, but the other candidate is so bad that you can’t let him (or her) win” can be heard echoing through our political halls during each election cycle. Translation: “Forget that we may be offering you weak candidates or an irrational position on an issue; ignore the fact that better alternatives are available; just do as you are told and surrender your vote to us … it’s easier than exercising independent judgment.”

The system itself tends to attract followers to political office rather than leaders. The Parties draw candidates who are willing to conform. These candidates are typically focused on “winning.”  As a result, they must be willing to sacrifice their ability to lead independently in return for the obscene amount of money and infrastructure they believe will be needed to “win” their elections.

“Winning” takes precedence over nearly everything at the major Party level. Of course, the argument will be made that unless a candidate “wins,” he or she cannot serve. The reality is that even if they win, they cannot serve because they must dedicate a disproportionate amount of time to repaying political favors and raising money for their next campaign (note: conservative estimates suggest that 50% to 75% of a federally elected official’s time is spent fundraising, running for re-election, or running for another office). As a result, our politicians spend more time raising money and “fixing the blame” than they do fixing our problems. For them, it is politically more efficient, and only the People suffer.

We can do better!

While I offered solutions rather than sound bites during my Presidential campaign, the most valuable part of the experience was being able to interact with individuals in open Q&A environments. It was never my intention to convince people that my positions were necessarily correct. Instead, I offered insight into the thought process I used and the factual basis for my proposals so that voters could more thoroughly vet my leadership skills and understand how I might approach an issue. I thought the American people should have the right to test the breadth and depth of a Presidential candidate at least once in their lives rather than be asked to render judgment based on self-serving ads, stump speeches, and highly contrived debate formats.

The response was overwhelming among those who fell within the limited reach of my campaign.

We discussed our Nation’s most challenging issues and did so in a civil manner. We exchanged ideas openly and without any threat of being shouted down by “the opposition.”

In that regard, I had an unfair advantage. I had no “opposition” because I simply ran as a citizen rather than as the candidate of a given Party. There was no inbred hostility toward me fanned by the flames of partisan competition.

An interesting thing happens when people lose the ability to stereotype a candidate: they have to actually listen to what the candidate says and then form a rational opinion about his or her position. Correspondingly, the candidate receives the gift of being exposed to the thoughts of others rather than being starved by a diet of information that merely conforms to a particular Party’s platform.

I am convinced that the collective thoughts of our citizens far surpass the intellectual capabilities of any given leader. While it is estimated that I spent 12,000 to 15,000 hours over a four-year period researching issues and preparing for the unique nature of my candidacy, I continually was exposed to new ideas and interesting viewpoints during the campaign. That rare experience gave me greater confidence on some occasions and a more refined perspective on others. It is an experience I would like to share with you.

IN CONCLUSION:  I suspect that participation in A Civil Assessment will grow over time. We will be building a forum within a traditional media outlet that has not existed in the past. You will be one of its Founders, and as a Founder, I hope you will work to spread the news of the forum to others. The success of this initiative will be entirely based upon its ability to attract well-reasoned contributions across a wide bandwidth of individuals.

Properly orchestrated, our discussions could even give rise to an important movement (the nature of which I will leave to you). If you find value in this endeavor, please “like” and “share” it within your social networks. The faster we can grow its viral base, the more rapidly we will be able to effect positive change for our country.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities section of The Washington Times.