Today marks one full week since Election Day, and the world has had a bit of time to pull out some of the more interesting insights from the night of November 6. There’s a particular aspect of the election that has me very optimistic about our future. You may have heard that election night 2012 marked a historical achievement. When it caucuses in January, the 113th Congress will include 20 senators who are women.
That’s more than there has ever been in our history, and when it comes to the rancor, argumentative discourse, the policy stand-offs, fiscal cliff threats, and dysfunction that our government has subjected us to in the last few years, well, perhaps these ladies can make a difference.
Besides the struggling economy, if there’s anything else more wrong with America today, I’m not sure what it could be. This awful tone to our communication has contributed to the challenges in our economic comeback and the perception of Americans around the world as disagreeable.
That’s not who we are, nor who we want to be. And, I hope new senators like Deb Fischer (R-NE), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will join with those like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), the first practicing Hindu in the US House of Representatives, also a woman, to lead their fellow colleagues in Congress on a new course.
Consensus, common ground, and the national desire to build constructive bonds that bind have been in the DNA of our democracy since it was forged by Jefferson, Adams, and Paine. Yet, the warning signs of an ugly side were also there from the start. In his farewell address, George Washington cautioned that, in the absence of leadership, the political differences between the Federalists and the Democratic-Republican parties would rip the country apart.
How right he was. Today, the hyper-partisan tenor in Congress is baked in. Former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-OK) described in his book, The Parties Versus the People, how the Republicans and Democrats drink their coffee, read their newspapers, and slurp their soup in separate rooms off the House floor.
“Members of the two parties must speak from different places, using different microphones positioned as an extension of their own side of the partisan divide. At the front of the House chamber, directly in front of the elevated rostrum from which the Speaker presides, are two lecterns. One is positioned to the right of center, facing Democrats, and one to the left of center, facing Republicans,” he wrote in an opinion story on CNN.com.
If we can’t break bread together, or can’t even speak facing each other directly, how are we supposed to govern?
Well, like many women, I know we tend to communicate a lot differently and by nature are wired to find “commonality.” This observation holds true in the composition of social networks where women are not only the majority on Facebook, they are on Twitter as well.
So why might women help the nation do this job better than Boehner and Reid alone? Here are five reasons I believe they can:
- With their focus on people and building relationships, perhaps women can soften the rancor and change the tone. An environment where people are genuinely committed to others and to making life better for the people in our communities would be a great start.
- Women will stop confusing governance with competitive sports. In the world of sports, someone has to win, and winning feels so much better when there are losers to step over. But, governing isn’t about winning and losing. It’s about winning and winning. The competitive nature of governance weakens the bonds of community and the fabric of our nation. Well, maybe our madam senators can “change the game” here.
- They will focus on real family matters. It’s been said that if women were in charge, they would turn attention to tangible family issues – jobs, healthcare, and education. I couldn’t agree more. Less talk about how to define “legitimate rape” and more talk about how to create a “legitimate recovery” would be a giant step forward. Those pejorative discussions that create emotional fireworks and tear apart our nation don’t unify us. Let’s put them aside. Our other problems are just too great.
- Women may bring more patience to the table in seeking creative solutions outside the norms. Our government has gotten in the awful habit of taking the easier route – throwing money at a problem and being done with it. Often, when the elbow grease – the time and energy – to think differently is put in, true creative solutions can be found. Our work in communications tells us this is true. But, our government seems not to have ever learned this practice. Well perhaps our lady legislators can show the way here.
- Simply compromise. Sacrifice your positions for the greater good. The tension between individualism and the community is stronger in America than any nation in the world. Much of this comes from our heritage as a frontier nation and the heroic effort that our founders were required to put forth to survive and build communities. Rugged individualism has its ugly side when it morphs into selfishness and self-righteousness. In today’s American life, making our community work is the most important need. Women can help show us how to sacrifice our positions for the greater good, just as they have for the good of the family since the beginning of time.
In the last several months, there’s been a lot of talk about Mars and the technical achievements of the Mars Science Laboratory. Well, now is the time to give Venus a go. We need a new hope. We need a new tone. We need a new approach. We need consensus, common ground, and constructive bonds that bind. Can a “Venus effect” in Congress put us on a better track? I hope so.
Let’s call on the 20 women in the Senate to take up this challenge and change the national conversation for the good.
Renee Wilson is president for North America at MSLGroup.