Suzanne P. Clark
President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
In business, building consensus is a fact of life. The companies, both large and small, that ultimately succeed are those propelled by a can-do spirit and a relentless drive for solutions. And the executives who lead them must bridge divides and rally teams around shared goals every day in order to boost productivity, support morale, serve customers, and drive growth. These leaders welcome various viewpoints and vigorous exchanges of ideas because it’s often through the questioning and challenging that breakthroughs are achieved and innovations are discovered.
Gridlock is not an option for business, and it shouldn’t be an option for the elected officials who run our government. Voters rightly expect results from the men and women who represent them. And businesses—of all sectors and sizes whose interests the U.S. Chamber represents—expect our leaders to work through differences and make smart policy decisions that will allow them to invest, hire, and grow.
In today’s polarized political environment, this is easier said than done. For many, compromise is a four-letter word and consensus is a fantasy. But that does not have to be the case—and given the sobering slate of challenges before us, it cannot be. We need a Washington that works, driven by men and women who work together, to help rebuild our country and ensure all its citizens have equal opportunity to succeed.
Challenges of the magnitude we face—an economic crisis caused by the pandemic and a national reckoning over systemic inequalities—should compel our leaders to rise to the moment. They can reject the tribalism that has fractured not only our political system but also our society. They can lead with constructive discourse in pursuit of real solutions.
That requires listening to all viewpoints. Negotiating in good faith acknowledges the skills, knowledge, and perspectives others bring to the table—including those with whom you disagree. Shutting them out of the conversation will not build the good will needed to achieve compromise.
Our leaders also must focus on achieving an outcome, not getting credit (or assigning blame). This is easier when operating from the assumption that everyone fundamentally shares the same goals of helping people and solving problems, even if ideas on how to get there differ. When it comes to serving our country, our leaders will succeed as a group, or fail as a group—regardless of party affiliation.
Inevitably, there will be issues where the gulf seems too wide. That is why we need a strong governing center, populated by lawmakers from both parties who have the courage to reach across the aisle and build consensus.
We know these leaders exist—and they are crucial to restoring a well-functioning government. In order to help grow the governing center, the Chamber recently revamped its congressional scorecard for the first time in 40 years. Now lawmakers can earn the Chamber’s support not only by voting for the business position on key bills, but also by demonstrating bipartisanship and legislative leadership. We were proud to recognize the 59 Democratic and Republican members of Congress who earned the highest scores by these measures at our first annual Governing with Distinction Awards earlier this year. We are committed to championing them and growing their ranks.
Such leaders have long been part of our legacy. As President George W. Bush said in his moving eulogy for Rep. John Lewis, “John and I had our disagreements, of course. But in the America John Lewis fought for, and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action.”
Collegiality and cooperation—not just in politics, but across the public discourse—will be needed to confront the most daunting set of challenges in decades: a global pandemic, a devastated economy, and deep-seated inequality of opportunity. These crises are intertwined, and if we don’t work together to address them, they will compound the problems dividing our country.