While the public rather enjoys a feisty political battle every four years during the presidential campaign, we have less appetite for personal attacks, pettiness, hyperbole, and fabrications when it comes to day-to-day governing. Lately, the political rhetoric and name-calling has been particularly mean-spirited, with each side assuming the worst of its rivals.
The acrimony that marks much political discourse has spread like a virus beyond Capitol Hill to blogs, TV, and radio. It is promulgated by former federal officials, politically motivated self-promoters, and people more interested in insulting foes than solving problems.
The healthcare reform battle - a referendum of sorts on government intervention versus private-sector problem-solving - is but the latest skirmish in a polarizing political war that has been waged continuously since the 1980s, with a brief period of unity post-9/11.
So why do I think 2010 will be a time of greater compromise and bipartisanship? And what does the polarization of Washington mean for businesses and industries that are greatly impacted by federal policymakers' decisions?
First, expect the US public to demand more cooperation. Concerned about the economy, healthcare, and terrorism, they don't trust one party or the government alone to find the answers. This is surely one reason each party has been given only relatively brief control of the White House, Senate, and House in the past 20 years. Many realize the need for industry and government and conservatives and liberals to work together. Americans are blogging, tweeting, talking, and organizing. They're involved and engaged. Congress can ignore them no longer.
Secondly, businesses and professional and trade groups have more to gain from helping shape policy than defending the status quo. The biggest winners in healthcare reform, for example, have been stakeholders willing to participate constructively. Some teamed up with unlikely allies to help move policy solutions forward. In 2010 and beyond, those who recognize the benefits of sitting at the table with traditional opponents will reap the rewards and win the favor of internal and external constituents.
Former White House speechwriter Peggy Noonan expressed the need for a "patriotic grace" that "eschews the politically cheap and manipulative." I suspect she's captured the general public sentiment. While political sparring will always be part of governing, simple self-interest and public pressure could foster more willingness to work together to shape our collective future.
Pam Jenkins is president of Powell Tate.