There are many who believe today's political climate is the most acrimonious and bitterly partisan in our nation's history.
Some make a living perpetuating that notion. However, let's not fool ourselves, nor be lulled into a sense of political malaise.
While there are clear divisions of opinion and countless advocates willing to risk their vocal chords to rant their beliefs, it's best to step back and realize this country has been there before. In fact, it's how we started.
There was enormous conflict within George Washington's first cabinet over the foundation of our government. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton was the chief proponent of the Federalist position supporting a strong, central government. In the other corner, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was a staunch believer in states' and individuals' rights.
It was a very divisive, politically charged debate and some 234 years later, it still hasn't been settled. And that's the point. The disagreement rages on, but we're making progress. As dysfunctional as the political process might appear, eventually it finds its way to the center with a compromise that works for most parties.
For public affairs pros, that is both discouraging and heartening. It's discouraging in the sense that all too often it is the voices from the margins that disproportionately influence the debate, and sensibility and rational thinking become virtually nonexistent.
On a positive note, the truth often lies somewhere near the middle and we find that through the intersection of compromise and public interest.
As political rhetoric becomes more charged and ideology and emotion try to subvert reason, the facts of a given situation or issue remain a constant. Those who communicate them in a clear, concise, and appropriately contextual manner stand the best chance of informing and shaping public policy.
Certainly there are exceptions, and to suggest the contrary would be politically naïve. But as some states and the federal government explore policy initiatives, facts and objective data become increasingly important for public affairs pros.
Facts can be and often are distorted to support a given position, some will say. It's true that some statistics can be treated like malleable props, but inevitably that exercise will be exposed. But when viewed in proper context, combined with transparency and independent validation, facts are still powerful weapons for successful public affairs initiatives. Hamilton and Jefferson would surely agree on that.
John Walls is VP of public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association.