Seeking Overwhelming Choices

How putting in just enough effort to win, has contributed to a polarized country

Nov. 7, 2013— -- @Matthewjdowd

This life provides an opportunity for all of us to evolve and go on a journey to a different place even if we are afraid or stuck. Sometimes we do this proactively from listening to the innermost voices in our hearts and making bold steps voluntarily; sometimes it takes life delivering the equivalent of a two-by-four to our heads in order to shake us from our habits and behaviors and have our life wrenched beneath us. I have been blessed with both avenues to adopt and change viewpoints to, hopefully, a higher, more enlightened place.

One big way I have changed is how I look at politics, governing and, ultimately, all relationships. In the past I was very adept when I worked in campaigns on both sides of the aisle in coming up with strategies and tactics that would provide a candidate or a legislative effort with just enough votes to win. We call it the 51 percent effort. You figure out the coalition to just barely win, then create the campaign to achieve that. And this is what is employed in most instances in nearly every campaign and legislative effort.

And it is these 51 percent campaigns that have helped contribute to a very divided and polarized country. I have remorse over my own involvement in them. Today I believe our country needs something more, and something very different. We need to design campaigns and policy efforts that will receive overwhelming support.

It is imperative that we begin to design campaigns that seek a much higher goal than just barely winning. Or in pushing legislative efforts that we know will pass, but barely. Campaigns and policies should be based on a model of overwhelming agreement. And if we can't find those avenues on certain policies in our politics, then we should pursue something different in the policy.

These 51 percent campaigns have contributed to a lack of governing ability by politicians from the White House to state houses around the country. Without real mandates or without having run campaigns targeted at a huge majority, leaders are left with very little room for error and political capital. So many leaders are faced with 49% of the voters totally out of sync with their leadership, and they have difficult time governing, floundering throughout their terms.

As I look at Terry McAuliffe's margin in his winning race in Virginia just this week for governor, he is going to be faced with the same difficulty, having won a very close race premised on a small majority strategy. And he will be left with a very problematic time governing unless he broadens his efforts quickly. What good does it do to win and then not be able to govern?

One of the biggest reasons for the difficulty in the acceptance and now implementation of the Affordable Care Act is that it was passed in Congress on a 51 percent strategy. The plan was based on getting barely enough votes to pass it, and it devolved into a very divisive result. The problems with Obamacare really started the day it was passed in such a way.

And turning to our personal lives, I have come to the same conclusion that we shouldn't settle for bare majorities in the choices we make in life. In the few big decisions we get to make in this world from who we choose as partners or companions to the work we do, we should strive to make decisions that are from a place of overwhelming joy. We shouldn't be putting together a balance-sheet approach to these decisions that, when calculated, barely get us in the positive direction.

So much of life we don't have control over, it just happens to us. The families we are born into, the physical characteristics we have, our ethnicities, the religion we are raised in, and where we grew up are all things we had no choice in. In the few things in life we get to choose, like partners and professions, we need to strive for those that are filled with joy. Instead of going for a partner who satisfies 51 percent of your wants and desires, go for one that is closer to 80 percent or more. And if you don't have that response, than be satisfied within your own self until you find the overwhelming joy.

It is time in our own lives and in our politics to drop the antiquated and unsatisfying 51 percent strategy, and begin to come up with strategies that will succeed in an overwhelming way. Segmentation and balance-sheet approaches, while gaining us some short-term wins, will ultimately fail in the long run to get us to a place of prosperity, peace and joy. Leadership in this world and in our own world depends on a different path.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent.

Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.

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