Stillwater News Press

Opinion

February 19, 2014

STEVE AND COKIE ROBERTS: Watch out for an outbreak of sanity in Washington, D.C.

STILLWATER, Okla. — Reports by presidential commissions are often like those statues that dominate public squares in Washington: Massive in size, but opaque in origin and quickly obscured by a thick layer of grime.

But one commission presented a report last month that reflects an unusual amount of bipartisan cooperation and good sense.

It deserves far more attention than it’s received so far.

The panel was formed by President Obama to recommend improvements in our election system after many Americans had to wait for hours to vote in 2012.

In a masterstroke, the president appointed the top election lawyers from each party as co-chairs: Democrat Robert Bauer and Republican Benjamin Ginsberg. (Ginsberg is a law partner of Cokie’s brother.)

These men differ on many issues, but at heart they are professionals, not politicians. And in a capital where compromise is far too often equated with betrayal, they embraced a search for common ground.

“We looked for the areas where we could agree without abandoning our principles, as opposed to the areas where we knew we would end up disagreeing,” Ginsberg told “PBS NewsHour.”

Moreover, they started with facts, not fantasy. They reasserted the valuable principle that there is an objective reality that can be described and documented, a shared basis for pragmatic prescriptions.

“We looked at the evidence,” Bauer said on PBS. “We took testimony from state and local election officials. We heeded the advice of experts and looked at the most recent social science. And we looked at ... the interest and evolving expectations of voters.”

This is a more important — and elusive — ideal than it sounds. Washington is overrun today by ideological warriors who don’t look at the evidence, but simply assert their prejudices and deny reality. Experts overwhelmingly agree, for example, that immigration and trade don’t cost jobs, they create them; that climate change and evolution are scientifically sound; that Obama was born in Hawaii, not Kenya or Indonesia.

Yet myths, rumors and outright falsehoods denying these indisputable facts continue to spread.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to encounter a panel that assiduously listened to the evidence and the experts. And that’s why their recommendations are so useful. Election rules can be highly controversial, tending to favor one party or the other, but the panel played it straight. As election law expert Heather Gerken of Yale Law School wrote, the report “offers something we don’t often see in policymaking circles these days: Sanity.”

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at stevecokie@gmail.com.

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