Sen. Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin — Political Bridge People
October 25, 2012

A veteran Republican senator and Democratic economist are political bridge people who've brought differing approaches and shared love of country to generations of economic policy. In this tense political moment, they offer straight talk and wise perspective — and won’t let partisan gridlock have the last word. The final dialogue in our Civil Conversations Project.

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In the Room with Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin

Watch the entire public discussion between Krista and her two guests at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. And see what people were seeing in our interactive chat as the event unfolded.

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The Civil Conversations Project (CCP) ~ Season 2

This show is part of The Civil Conversations Project, a series of four public discussions offering ideas and tools for healing our fractured civic spaces. Listen to our other CCP dialogues:

» The Future of Marriage
» Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Dialogue
» The Next Christians
» Political Bridge People

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Alice Rivlin and former Sen. Pete Domenici greet each other before a public discussion for The Civil Conversations Project with Krista Tippett at The Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.

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Sickens me to hear Pete Domenici characterize himself as the victim of the current bipartianship that exists in congress. YOU HELPED CREATE THE PROBLEM in a party that smears "victims" and preaches personal responsibility. Did Pete call out Sen. McConnell for saying that his #1 legistlative goal was to make sure that Obama is not reelected. I tried to listen to him, but all I hear is a bunch of fluff and him taking no responsibility for the problem that he was part of creating. It is important to have civil conversations, but it is also important to bear witness to the truth.

Oh Michael, if you look up Ms. Rivilin you'll see much of the same. Try to see there's a two way street. And how about bearing witness to the truth that people like you are ruining this country with your unconstitutional spending? How about that truth? What would the founders think of your politics if a moderate Republican like Pete ruffles your feathers? Move to Cuba and feel right at home.

I just heard that politicians in Washington now spend 3 out of 5 business days raising campaign money. I work for my state's government, and I find this unacceptable. Since at best, the raised money would only benefit about half the country, I feel a more than reasonable requirement would be to expect half of all money raised go toward reducing the national debt.

yes

I really enjoyed the dialogue between Alice and Pete but I was wondering about race and the role it may play today in bipartisatoday? I do sense that comments, ie, Donald Trump have a racial undertone. This may be a huge barrier and brings up the issue that racial tensions are still an problem in this country.

This is fascinating. I hope the discussants are right in their guarded optimism for effective public compromise on these thorny issues. But I have a fundamental doubt (I should declare that I am a social-democratic European transplant).

I used to think that the difference between right and left was less in their goals, and more in they way they wanted to achieve them - left believing that government was fundamentally effective and right that it is fundamentally ineffective, with the right prepared to accept a somewhat higher degree of inequality as inevitable/acceptable. But the nature of the dialogue currently in the US has caused me to change my perspective. Instead, I hear very heavy emphasis on the right on personal responsibility, tinged with considerable resentment. Those who don't make it didn't make it for a reason. It is their problem. I will not "subsidize" them. I will not pay for anything that I (or mine) do not directly benefit from.

I find this distressingly unkind. In any welfare system there are always freeloaders, and we have to do all we can to stop that happening and ensure that our systems help to move people up not allow them to stay down. But our society will also always have the less fortunate. And I truly believe that noone on the right would want to live with the consequences of not properly caring from them if cause and effect could be effectively demonstrated.

I, personally, find it hard to listen to or want to compromise with those who have such an unkind attitude.

The participants also make me wonder if this divisive dialog is only at the political level and not reflected in public attitudes - in other words, that media sensationa is most of the problem. I wish that were true but I fear not.

Finally, I know the participants are trying to get away from partisan bickering but it's kind of difficult to listen without hearing anything about the elephant in the room - that even moderate and (formerly) respected Republicans have come out to say that their party has been far more radical in its refusal to compromise than the Democrats. The latter have also been guilty of poor leadership on many occasions, but I think a key issue for the US is the radicalization of the Republican party and how to reverse that. Talking about bipartisan compromise without mentioning this issue.......well, it's not very effective.

Good luck to the moderates in their efforts.

All the things Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici said _not_ to do are being done by Republicans in Washington D.C. and in other capitals across the country. They said that all political parties need to work together to get things done in our democracy. Well, Republicans refuse to negotiate and compromise, and that's destroying our economy and our country.

I really enjoyed today's show. Brought home the fact that no matter our party affiliation, we need to make space for dialogue and collaboration to impact our country in a positive way. I am so tired of the negativity. I am comfortable with being a liberal Democrat and have friends that are conservative Republicans. I accept that there are issues will disagree. But it is important to see where we can agree on issues and the ways to address them. We have to believe this can be done or hope is lost.

Really enjoy the thought provoking, self-examination that your program provokes me into doing. But would love to know the sources of the music that you use. It unto itself can assist in meditation and comtemplation.

The major party "compromisers" seem to think that by making the budget problem sound complicated, they can "simplify" it enough to hide from the voting public the fact that spending on the military is almost as high as that on social security or medicare and that it has to be cut significantly in order to eliminate the deficit. But the "compromisers" are not succeeding in hiding anything: The public wants to cut military spending by as much as the Obama budget and sequestration combined would do (the one good thing about the "fiscal cliff"). And the public wants to reduce our military commitments abroad even more drastically: There is strong support for defending only the "English speaking peoples" of England, Canada, and Australia, plus Israel. The "radicals" on the left and right (greens and libertarians) agree in calling for such cuts in our military expenditures and involvements, but they are not allowed to participate in the "civil conversation."

Many valuable points were made by both Ms Rivlin and Sen. Domenici. Within the context of the discussion the issue of public discussion and co-operation covered many ideas that have been before the public for many years. What I have yet to hear in the public forum is issues of privialige/entitlement not only on the left but on the right coupled with responsibility within the concept of community. There appears to be a plutocracy developing throughout the world and with it a class of individuals who feel that while the law is important - it doesn't apply to them. Exploring this might be interesting.

Interesting show and compromise is a good thing but isn't it the compromisers like the two participants who got us into this 16 trillion dollar debt? Would they have us compromise our Bill of Rights and future away? Either you follow the Constitution or you don't. We haven't and we are suffering through partisanship mainly b/c we are debating issues that shouldn't even be debated. I for one don't mind a good political fight. Stand for something (limited govt., personal responsibility, not ruining people with govt. spending, protecting human life and marriage b/w a man and a woman) or fall for anything. Just b/c I don't agree with liberals doesn't mean I'm intolerant for they are intolerant of me. We're all intolerant, it's just what one wants to defend. Should I compromise with the university president in CT who recently fired a Christian prof. for signing an anti-gay marriage petition? Never. We should all defend the Bill of Rights and not compromise our freedoms away as this show implies, yet, be agreeable on the little things of course.

I have to somewhat agree with Mr Suvak's comments re: Mr Domenici. It seems to me it is easy to be critical of your political constituancy when you are no longer beholden to them for re-election. I could be wrong but I can't ever recall hearing, while he was in the senate, the Mr. Domenici be as as publically and eloquently critical of his fellow senators. Would it not have been far more a courageous a stand to have done so at that time. Don't get me wrong what both of the speakers are saying is exactly what Americans need to hear but would have been more valuable while either of them were more in the public eye. For a moment imagine Mr. Domenici at a public forum and calling out Sen DeMint for his outburst during Mr. Obama's State of the Union. I, for one, would have had a great deal more admiration for him than I do now. Politiciansof all stripes seem to only follow the party line when it comes to legislative initiatives. How about the non-party line about what is best for America rather what is best for my party? I can't count how many times I have heard politians out of office extolling the benefits of bi-partisanship yet have spent their careers engendering partisanship.

I was distressed this morning that Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici place a national "fence" around economic justice. I have long admired your work healing religious division around the world but economics are part of that. In olden days, before TV, the rising tide of expectation could only see as far as the next wave but now, times they are a-Changin. Never mind the morality question, don't we realize how expensive the military solution is?

I listened to the very interesting discussion with Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin and enjoyed the civility of it all. Perhaps I missed it but do not recall hearing anything on the following:
The current debt problems are the result of the Bush tax cuts, two wars and the Medicare Rx legislation, all on borrowed money. Yet to bring the budget into balance they, like the conservatives, point to "entitlement" reductions. Let me remind everyone, since they didn't do it, Social Security and Medicare are funded separately through payroll deductions not the income tax. And in the case of Social Security there is over $2 trillion in the trust fund. Both might need reform in the future but the money going into the programs is a completely separate revenue stream and should not be used for any general budget items.
Nor did I hear any talk of raising revenue to pay for a war. My view is that war should be declared in an act of Congress and that a special tax imposed to pay for it. An excise tax should be imposed on all suppliers of war material to control profiteering.
Furthermore it has been known for a long time that anti-government forces are more than happy to have huge deficits and debt because they can then cast blame onto social safety net programs, Social Security and Medicare while they continue to push for excessive spending on the military. How do the Senator and Ms Rivlin hope to compromise with the likes of Grover Norquist and the so-called Tea Party people who populate Congress? I wish them well but fear that an Obama victory will continue the behavior of congress in blocking all of his efforts, and a Romney victory will further erode the wellbeing of hard working citizens. Thank you.

I lived through the years when Sen Domenici was a leading spokesman in the Senate. During those years, he was shrill and nasty.
To hear him now as a seff-descrubed "bridge" is sickening. Apparently at 80, he has seen the light, but he did his damage.
He speaks of getting rid of the current messages of hate; I suggest he immediately call up Fox News and ask for moderation.
Better yet, let Fox News invite him to hear his message of bipartisianship.

The duplicity of BOTH of them was sickening. For Rivlin to say that there will be no change in Medicare/Medicaid with either plan demonstrates her willingness to eject the facts to appeal to the theme of the show: bipartisanism. All dialogue must start with FACTS.

Krista, this program was not worth airing. Sorry.

I have to agree that this program segment was not worth airing, Krista. Civil discussions need to be based on honesty and when they do not begin that way it is misleading to proceed. This show took as its guideposts that the two speakers were going to be truthful, that facts were what needed to be paid attention to. The speakers quickly arrived at the observation that this nation's debt was a great danger AND that Medicare and Social Security were what needed to be repaired to correct our financial trends. That smells simplistic and political to me. Fact: Social Security has nothing to do with national debt; it is a paid annuity. Why did your guests not notice that about 12 years ago this country was on track to be debt-free? What happened to change that? Why are entitlements to the following never calculated when we discuss ongoing debt: Big Oil, The Pentagon, Wall Street, Agribusiness, Big Pharma?

All civil conversations need to begin in honesty, and when they do not someone needs to take them there (ahem, the moderator). To begin with the premise that facts are what we must focus on and then to establish that Medicare and Social Security are the two major reasons for our nation's debt death spiral, was a supreme act of dishonesty. Social Security has NOTHING to do with our debt. That's a fact. Then, speakiing of entitlements, Krista why did you allow entitlements to Big Oil, Wall Street, Agribusiness, The Pentagon, and Big Pharma to be off limits? Twelve years ago this country was on track to be debt-free in short order. What changed? Well, it was not merely Medicare and Social Security obligations. I agree with one writer, this program should not have been aired. It did more harm than good.

The question was about civility. I'm reluctant but,,, what I experience is a distaste for tolerance, of people who want to ignore history, truth, and facts. They take the pundits as gospel. They seem to use negative opinion as positive reinforcement of their reluctance to accept the vastness of America. Sadly, beliefs come in dfferent flavors. Those who belive a thing don't care to be told they're wrong. Myself I've always felt that negative feelings and negative opinions are spread at much greater volume than the positve. Often the positive is overlooked or forgotten. In my own actions I've become reluctant air my knowledge of history and fact with others. My hope is that we learn to use our time and resources rather than blame others for what we wish we had.

While I thought this discussion was worthy of airtime, and I am all for cross party cooperation and civility, I was very frustrated that the budget question was reduced to taxes/revenue vs spending on social entitlement programs. How can we discuss balancing the budget without at least mentioning spending on so-called "defense". Has this become untouchable? Unmentionable? To me, it was the elephant in the room throughout the discussion. Surely, if it was not mentioned by the guests, Ms Tippett has a duty as a journalist to raise it.

Thank you for airing this. I was enthralled when I heard it on NPR this weekend in Nashville. I listened to it twice. I'm conservative, but I'm so disheartened with the comments on this page (from both sides) and the animosity people have towards each other. I was especially moved by the discussion on where each of them struggled with the beliefs of their own parties. It's definitely easier to be bipartisan when you're no longer in office, but the wisdom from this conversation is something we all need to hear. Thanks for this and I look forward to listening to some of your other shows.

Ms. Tippett's shows and interviews are among the best the public airwaves offers, and tend to probe well past the superficiality of most current event coverage and well into human nature. It is in this context of high journalistic standards that I found this particular show terribly vexing. Yes, it is good and noble and important to seek "political bridges." Yet, Ms. Tippett did not really challenge these two in any substantial way at all. Their view of the current financial situation and the way to tackle it has some rather substantial questions about it--questions that incorporate a powerfully alternative understanding than the one espoused by Domenici and Rivlin of our current financial situation, of our political culture in general and of our society as a whole. Sadly, and almost inexplicably, Ms. Tippett chose not even to acknowledge such an alternative understanding. She needn't have steered the discussion into the partisan bickering that Domenici and Rivlin profess to "bridge." Yet she sure could have--and really should have--asked these two some genuinely probing questions. Uncharacteristically, in this interview, Ms. Tippett played more the role of the polite, purposefully naive fluffball interviewer that we see more typically on Sunday morning television network programming.

I teach my students that we can find unity in our democracy through the use of civil discourse -- a way of speaking to each other that begins with trying to see the other person's point of view and how that view might have been shaped. I use the acronym EUREKA to identify the steps in civil discourse: As we speak to others, we seek to express EMPATHY with the other, then UNDERSTANDING of that person's position, then RESPECT for the position, then ENDORSEMENT of some of that view if that is possible for us, then we seek KOMMON GROUND (poetic license) and then, and only then do we ASSERT our own position. We INVITE others to see the world as we do. Civil discourse is a form of invitational rhetoric.

Voices on the Radio

is senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and retired as Republican Senator of New Mexico in 2008.

is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She was vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board, founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, and served in the numerous Democratic administrations.

Production Credits

Host/Producer: Krista Tippett

Senior Editor: Trent Gilliss

Senior Producer: David McGuire

Technical Director/Producer: Chris Heagle

Producer: Nancy Rosenbaum

Associate Producer/Online: Susan Leem

Coordinating Producer: Stefni Bell

Supporters of Sen. Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin — Political Bridge People

The Civil Conversations Project is sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics.