We need consensus, not partisanship
On Dec. 13, about 1,000 Americans from all 50 states gathered in New York City to make an open declaration of concern and hope for their country.These citizen leaders of a new effort called "No Labels" are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Some have served in elected office; some consider themselves "ordinary citizens." We have different views about the role of government and its relationship with its citizens.But we share the same essential goals as Americans: We believe our country is exceptional, and we want our children to live in an even stronger country than the one we grew up in. We also share a belief that our country's future is in jeopardy, at least in part because our current political culture rewards hyperpartisanship rather than principled patriotism.This country's greatest moments have been marked by the ability of its leaders to put their partisan labels aside in order to forge an agreement or build consensus to move us forward. The Constitution itself was a document reflecting remarkable compromises by a group of principled, passionate people who fought with each other - hard - during the summer of 1787 before voting to ratify the set of compromises that became our Constitution that September.This concept of being willing to move beyond the labels we use to identify ourselves, each other and our ideas can seem pretty foreign in an age where the media reinforces stereotypes - sometimes through catchphrases, sometimes through demonizing those whose ideas or positions deviate from a particular ideology - all to drive up audience ratings. And the recent advent of unlimited and secretly funded political advertising provides yet another source of polarizing messages.But Americans have a proud history of putting labels aside and putting the country first. Or, to put it another way, we have been willing to consider ideas and solutions regardless of whether they - or their sources - are labeled Republican or Democratic, conservative or liberal, progressive or libertarian.We are facing unprecedented challenges - two wars, a record deficit, and the need to regain our role as the leader in an innovation economy. We can't possibly maximize our potential - and compete on a global playing field - without addressing the pressing problems of job creation, deficit reduction, health care, education system improvement and energy independence.But our efforts to address these issues are met, increasingly, with the type of "all-or-nothing" partisanship that prizes short-term wins for various interest groups over long-term problem-solving for our country.No Labels isn't a new political party, nor does it expect all of its members to represent centrist views. I am a Democrat, proud of my party's values and vision. Other Granite Staters who attended the No Labels launch are Independents and Republicans, equally committed to their views. But we know that we need to find common ground so that we can help address our current and future challenges.The next step in the No Labels movement is to develop concrete ways of measuring and rewarding fact-based, problem-solving behavior among our elected leaders. The group hopes to build grassroots organizations in each of the country's 435 congressional districts.We will advocate for "open" primaries - New Hampshire already has them - allowing a broader cross-section of voters to help choose party nominees. We will also develop mechanisms for rewarding those who reach across the aisle to co-sponsor legislation, work to build consensus as they write legislation, and are civil in words and actions in dealing with those with whom they disagree.And we will encourage our leaders to return to the practices that led them to socialize across party lines, developing the type of relationships that create respect, trust and candor that are critical to constructive, high-stakes problem-solving.Maggie Hassan of Exeter, former New Hampshire Senate majority leader, is a citizen leader for No Labels in New Hampshire.