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How to End the Gridlock

We suggested a few initial steps. Each presidential nominee should commit to appointing a truly bipartisan Cabinet that would include the most qualified people available, regardless of their party affiliation. Presidential candidates should be pressured to clearly describe how they would establish a government of national unity. Since results matter more than words, we would also press both major-party nominees to lay out specific strategies for reducing polarization and reaching bipartisan consensus on our agenda of national challenges.

The next president can't do it alone. If we are to break the cycle of partisan gridlock, others who have contributed to the disease must also help with the cure. To this end:

¿ Congress must restore and modernize the campaign finance reforms enacted after Watergate. Today, a presidential candidate accepts public financing at the risk of being discounted as weak and irrelevant.

¿ The media must insist that future presidential debates each focus on a single issue. Candidates can hide behind sound bites when a debate covers every and all subjects. But when candidates must spend a full 90 minutes discussing health care or national defense, voters will learn who is for real and who isn't.

¿ Political parties must fundamentally reform the dysfunctional presidential primary system. We need a better process in 2012 -- one that empowers all Americans. My preference would be four regional primaries, held at three- to four-week intervals from January to April.

¿ Our citizens must be educated to use their powers for effective participation in the political process. Democracy was never intended to be a spectator sport.

History tells us that bipartisanship is possible. In the 40 years after World War II, nine presidents -- four Democrats and five Republicans -- worked side by side with Congresses of both parties to contain the Soviet Union and strengthen the free world. We can resurrect that healthy condition, but it starts with cutting out the cancer of hostile partisanship. It's time to use the knife not to injure political opponents but to cure.

Bob Graham, a Democrat, was a U.S. senator from Florida from 1987 to 2005. He is an associate of the Belfer Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and leads the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida and the University of Miami.


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