Lee Hamilton: Guess what! A good politician can be a good policymaker

Here’s a surprise: The skills that can be used to win in politics are increasingly the skills needed to produce good policy. Let me explain.

Politicians running for office have a choice. They can appeal to their base and hope that gets them all the votes they need. Or they can try to build a coalition of voter

The former gives us politicians who don’t much care about crafting broadly acceptable policy. But candidates who reach out to a broader swath of the electorate – and are rewarded at the polls –will go to Washington with exactly the skills needed to make our representative democracy work.

We live in a time of great polarization and declining trust – in politicians, in institutions, in one another. Our representative democracy is in stress, if not in peril.

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We need to return to our traditional approach of building coalitions across diverse groups. Success in governing requires building a broad base of support that appeals to a wide sector of American society.

This means rejecting partisan hostility and working across the aisle. It means rejecting the attitude that the most important thing is that “my tribe” prevails. It means including all people in the public dialogue and dealing with them with respect.

It means rejecting authoritarianism and assaults on fundamental institutions, including courts, Congress, law enforcement and the media.

There’s plenty of ground for agreement when we work within a framework of issues that majorities of Americans support: fair taxation, free markets, free trade, opportunity for all, a mainstream view of freedom of choice, a realistic approach to addressing climate change, maintaining a vital social safety net.

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The good news is that you can put together both a winning political campaign and a successful policy effort by speaking straightforwardly to the issues Americans care about, and by understanding where people’s points of commonality lie.

This takes a politician’s skill at its most basic: building consensus behind a solution to a problem. Only then can we fix the many problems the country faces.

Lee Hamilton is a senior adviser for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government and a former Democratic congressman.