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At the Conference on World Affairs, a Call for Civility in Politics

Kirk Siegler

In Boulder, the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs got underway Monday with a rousing call for more civil dialogue in national and local politics from the founder of the bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

At 81 years old, economist Alice Rivlin has seen her fair share of polarized debates in Washington, serving under the Clinton Administration as well as on two recent bi-partisan debt commissions under the Obama Administration.  Now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Rivlin told a packed Macky Auditorium during the CWA's opening keynote that she’s optimistic about the improving economy, but pessimistic that Congress will work together to solve issues such as the deficit and immigration.

"Our political system has become so polarized and our representative democracy has become so polarized that we may be unable to act on any of these big challenges," Rivlin said. 

Rivlin said the two main parties are more homogenous and partisan than ever; a product she said has less to do with redistricting, and more with the fact that Americans are increasingly mobile, and looking to move to neighborhoods where people have political views similar to them.

"In fact, on some measures, the most liberal Republican is to the right of the most conservative Democrat.  Now that’s not a good situation for making policy," she said.

Rivlin went on to offer a few solutions; including a call for an end to filibusters and extending term limits for Senators and Representatives.  She also charged the audience to get out of their boxes and promote civil dialogue in their neighborhoods. 

There will no doubt be time for panelists and participants to discuss how best to do that in the dozens of panels and forums in the days ahead.  This year’s conference theme, after all, is Political Dialogue, How it Should Be.” 

The Conference on World Affairs runs through Friday on the CU-Boulder campus.  It's free and open to the public.  You can find a full schedule here

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.
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