Beyond the Shouting

Over the summer I spoke with President Gutmann about her new book, The Spirit of Compromise, coauthored with Harvard Professor Dennis Thompson. In a part of our interview that didn’t make it into the edited version (“Invasion of the Permanent Campaign,”), she noted that one of the important decisions made by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention was that “they would simply listen to one another. They wouldn’t talk when other people were talking.” This was a big deal, she explained, “because in parliamentary systems there is a lot of shouting … That was a rule of respect, and it made a huge difference among extremely strong partisans.”

In politics these days, on the other hand, it seems like the shouting—amplified by megaphones of money, and endlessly echoed by cable TV and the Internet—is all there is out there.

But not in here.

All the feature articles in this issue deal—thoughtfully, and, we hope, thought-provokingly—with politics. Besides my interview with Dr. Gutmann and an excerpt from her book, we also share insights from three prominent alumni politicians and pass on a few suggestions from Penn experts on future issues to address.

Among other topics, Dr. Gutmann discussed the impetus for the book, the pernicious influence of the “permanent campaign” on governing, and the critical importance of long-term working relationships in forging successful compromises.

The accompanying excerpt, “Making Democracy Safer for Governing,” includes a series of eminently reasonable steps—from encouraging legislators to spend more time in Washington to better educating students on the role of compromise—that Gutmann and Thompson believe would help promote a more a compromise-friendly climate in Washington and the states.

Next, in “Dispatches from the Front,” senior editor Samuel Hughes checks in with Ed Rendell C’65 Hon’00, Arlen Specter C’51, and Jon Huntsman C’87 Hon’10 for their respective takes on the current state of the nation’s political life.

In Sam’s interview with Rendell, he talked about his new book, A Nation of Wusses, taking both parties to task for failing to confront their respective bases. Huntsman spoke candidly and with wry humor about his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination and the light it sheds on today’s GOP.

We tried, but weren’t able to arrange an interview with Specter. But the excerpt from his intriguingly titled memoir, Life Among the Cannibals, vividly brings back the contentious summer of 2009, when the Tea Party made its strength—and intense opposition to healthcare reform—apparent in raucous town meetings.

Rounding out the package is “Toward a More Perfect Union,” a collection of essays, interviews, and reported pieces curated by associate editor Trey Popp.

Contributors include School of Social Policy and Practice Dean Richard Gelles, who proposes a “Futures Account” to get every American young person started on the road to a middle-class life; doctoral candidate and Middle East expert Eric Trager on dealing with Egypt’s new president; law professor Anita Allen on online privacy (or the lack thereof); and David Grande GM’03 and Tom Baker of the Leonard Davis Institute on implementing the Affordable Care Act.

Last but not least, Trey interviewed Annenberg Public Policy Center Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson about, a website that will assess the accuracy of all “third-party” ads (the kind produced by Super PACs) and post videos of their results. But that’s not all. Unlike with ads produced by campaigns, stations aren’t required to air third-party ads, so the website also provides a way for individuals to complain to their local stations to pull the ads or correct them.

Which should keep all of us busy this election season.

—John Prendergast C’80

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